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Midtown, downtown provost shares how St. Pete College is navigating COVID-19

Megan Holmes

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The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights. Click the play arrow above to watch the full video.

On this episode, Tashika Griffith, provost of St. Petersburg College Downtown & Midtown campuses joins Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst.

But first, as usual, Steinocher takes listeners through the Florida Chamber Scorecard for Pinellas County. He says the outlook remains optimistic, as the percent of positive tests cases hovers at less than 2 percent, despite the 14-day average of positive cases increasing to 22.3 on Memorial Day, and down to 22.2 Tuesday.

From Friday, the positive cases jumped from 20.6 per day to 22.2, just short of Pinellas County’s peak of 25 positive cases per day in April, though testing has widely expanded since that time. Steinocher says that the indicators are good following the first two weeks of reopening in Pinellas County and across Florida.

Griffith, originally from the Bahamas, is no stranger to crisis. In her 20 years of higher ed experience, Griffith spent time at Virginia Tech, and worked there during the infamous school shooting in 2007.

Still, Griffith, who steers two of St. Pete College’s 11 Pinellas County campuses, says she has never seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has thrown higher education into a swirl of uncertainty, rendering higher education professionals unable to do what they do best – plan. Uncertainty has made planning through the pandemic and ensuring the safety of all stakeholders particularly challenging, especially given the unknowns in regard to its impact on students.

St. Pete College has worked to support its 47,000 students during the crisis, moving to an online format from Mid-March to the end of May, and now beginning its summer session online as well.

The college saw 2,000 students graduate at the end of spring semester, thanks to wraparound services provided by the college. Students in need were provided Chrome Books, laptops and dongles for hot-spot WiFi access. Funds were provided for rent, bills and utilities that would otherwise have piled up for students normally working part-time or full-time, laid off during the pandemic.

Luckily, Griffith, says 90-95 percent of classes already had online shells prior to the pandemic, meaning they had infrastructure and training in place to move the classes online smoothly.

Still, there are experiences involved with hands-on learning that can’t be replicated, Griffith explains, particularly for students in nursing, dental and other healthcare programs. Griffith expects that when St. Pete College begins to bring students back, those will be the first to return.

The college is currently planning the return schedules of faculty and staff, thinking about staggered schedules, rotations of team members and what PPE requirements might look like.

Griffith is confident that COVID-19 will present an opportunity for St. Pete College to re-imagine the way its classes and programs are provided to students, as the college is in the midst of creating 5-10 year plans. How could remote work change those priorities? What might it look like for classes to change format or rotate format to reduce the number of students in classrooms, and on campus, at any given time?

Griffith considers these questions and more, and shares perspectives from her work in Grow Smarter and the St. Petersburg Chamber.

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