The Florida Department of Education has ordered all schools in Florida to be closed through May 1st due to concerns about coronavirus. More information is available on our Coronavirus Information page.

Skip Navigation
Suggest a story
Image for Students track 'virus' in hands-on science lab at Sgt. Smith Middle School
At Sgt. Smith Middle School, eighth-grader Saichelle Bristol reveals a sample infected with a "virus" during a lab in Health Science teacher Mary-Chris Peterika's high-school credit class.

Students track 'virus' in hands-on science lab at Sgt. Smith Middle School

August 25, 2017 - Points of Pride

Hands-on learning is a staple in Hillsborough County classrooms, and sometimes that means gloves-on, too. At Sergeant Paul R. Smith Middle School in Citrus Park, health science teacher Mary-Chris Peterika led students through a recent lab about how a virus can quickly spread from just a single source.

For students in the high-school-credit course, the goal was to identify “patient zero” using solid science to reach their conclusions.

“Get your virus,” one student shouted to a classmate who left her test tube on the desk for the experiment. She grabbed it, then each lab group shared a portion of its test tube’s liquid contents with the neighboring group. That cycle repeated until each team had exchanged fluids with three of the 12 groups and carefully charted the exchanges.

Along the way, Peterika polled students on the various ways viruses could spread, such as human-to-human contact or contact with an infected item such as a dirty needle. She also told experiences from her time as a health-care worker.

Then, it was time to chart the results. Eighth-grader Saichelle Bristol, wearing a lab coat and gloves, dropped an indicator fluid into each test tube. It’s worth noting that a real virus wasn’t unleashed at Smith, just a special chemical that changes colors when it meets an indicator. No “virus,” no change. The first rack was virus-free, but eventually some of the samples slowly turned magenta.

“Aaaah” Peterika said after one, as students expressed a similar sentiment.

Eighth-grader Zoey Zancara, who assumed the role of epidemiologist for the experiment, charted the results for all the class to see.

“When we do this, it’s better for us,” she said of interactive work. “It’s easier for us to understand.”

“It shows you how it’s going to be in the medical field,” added classmate Arianna Samper.

Both are eighth graders at Smith. Though just a few days into the year, they’ll already excited about heading to Sickles High School in a year and then to college and beyond.

“Yes!” they shouted in unison when asked if they wanted to work in medicine. Samper wants to be a biomedical engineer while Zancara is considering optometry. They’ve been in Peterika’s class since sixth grade at Smith, which offers a pre-medicine program.

The students are active in the HOSA, a student organization for future health professionals. Along with a third team member, last year they won a regional competition for health education. They created a portfolio and even taught sixth-grade students “Verbal Judo,” a strategy for peacefully resolving conflicts. They’re already working on their HOSA projects for this school year.

But first … that science lab.

As the class reviewed the data, they narrowed their search for “patient zero” down to two potential samples, focusing on the ones that appeared multiple times on the list of inflections. Data should have revealed a single sample, but someone recorded something wrong along the way. That happens in science, too.

Still, with an additional round of testing, students were able to isolate Sample 8 as the origin. Peterika and the students discussed how a vaccine could have stemmed the spread and within that single class period, students had met their objective.

The lab laid the groundwork for a year of other interactive activities, including measuring blood pressure, learning CPR and more.

To learn more about Sergeant Paul R. Smith Middle School, visit

View Full Album