Immunocompromised teacher in Lakewood Ranch relies on outdoor classroom to teach during pandemic

Manatee County

LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. (WFLA) – Mike Newhams is a longtime science teacher at The Out-of-Door Academy in Lakewood Ranch. He’s taught anatomy and biology there for 22 years.

This school year, the educator faced some challenges because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am immunocompromised…weak immune system, I actually have bad lungs as well, so COVID spells a double whammy. All my doctors said ‘no, you are not going in a classroom. I don’t care how many steps you take,'” said Newhams.

He says teaching via Zoom wasn’t ideal and losing his job was out of the question. The stern message from his doctors forced him to get creative in finding a way to remain on campus.

He turned to ODA’s roots — the outdoors. His idea was an outdoor classroom in a covered area where students can social distance. Newhams says the administration at the school was all on board to make it happen.

“Within a week, there were chairs and tables out there, a whiteboard was screwed to the wall, they bought me a crazy TV that connects the computer and everything else… I was up and rolling,” said Newhams.

The outdoor classroom has come with some challenges. The school installed fans to help with the Florida heat and Newhams brought out plenty of extension cords to take care of the technology challenges.

So far, teaching outside has been a great success and Newhams says other teachers are now doing the same. He is thankful school leaders allowed him to be flexible this school year.

“It makes the difference because I don’t know if I could have sustained Zoom. I would have been miserable, but what is the other option…Not having a job? You really have to really think the money, the time, and the creativity… so it is pretty moving as you can see, for them to do it,” said the longtime educator.

Students are not required to wear masks in the outdoor classroom as long as they are six or more feet apart.

“We haven’t had a single transmission at school,” said Newhams.

9th grade student Gavin Gargano enjoys learning outside.

“It is almost nicer out here in my opinion because you get the fresh air and we are allowed to take our masks off by staying 6 feet apart and things like that as well,” said Gargano. “It’s great in my opinion. This might be one of my favorite classes just because the environment,” she continued.

The student tells 8 On Your Side she is thankful Mr. Newhams found a way to safely teach on campus.

“It is so nice that he is here. It means the world to our class especially because this is a tougher class. For him being here and being able to teach us it is like a privilege to us almost,” Gargano said.

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April 24 2021 08:00 am

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