April 23, 2006 / Spring 2006

Surviving Katrina

Written by Idea File Staff

Help can come from unlikely sources. After Hurricane Katrina struck
the Gulf Coast Aug. 29, small, rural Hammon High School in Hammon, Okla., was able to donate two computers and a 35mm camera to Grace King High School in Metairie, La., which usually has about 1,500 students.

Hammon and Grace King were put together through Walsworth’s Adopt a Staff program. Yearbook staffs from across the country signed up at walsworthyearbooks.com to help a Gulf Coast yearbook staff, and Cheryl Wilks, a Walsworth yearbook representative in Louisiana, gave contact information to the schools.

Grace King High and Hammon High could not be more opposite. Grace King is a large, suburban, multi-cultural school with students who represent 37 languages. Amid the variety of cultures, though, there are no Native Americans, which comprise half of Hammon High’s student population of 200 students in grades pre-Kindergarten through 12.

So how come Hammon, which also donated computers to another school, could spare the equipment?

Brenda Archer, Hammon’s yearbook adviser, said Hammond received a grant that allowed them to buy laptops for every student in grades nine through 12, freeing up a few of the computers in the school. She said if another grant goes through, Hammon maybe could send at least one more computer.

Archer said she wanted to help because she understands Grace King’s problems. Years ago, after Archer’s first year of teaching, a fire went through Hammond High.

“It makes you realize what it’s like starting from scratch,” Archer said.

Grace King High School suffered wind and water damage from the hurricane and its fallout. The school’s recovery was aided by the National Guard, which used the building as an armory and therefore made repairs. However, Sandy Masson, yearbook adviser, said it did take a while to clean up the mess in the yearbook room.

No public schools were opened in New Orleans at mid-year, and Grace King was the closest public high school to the city. So when the school reopened, the student body was different. By covering the effects of the hurricane on their school, they truly will be covering the hurricane.

Their theme of the yearbook, the Shillelagh, is SurvivinG Katrina, accenting the G and K, which are the school’s initials. The staff is a reflection of the affects of the storm. Before Aug. 29, the day the hurricane hit, Masson’s Yearbook 1 class was larger than Yearbook 2, which is the yearbook staff. After the school reopened, Yearbook 1 lost half of its students, and Yearbook 2 has students that were on yearbook staff at their home school. Much of the school is like that this year.

“Our emphasis has been on the population we took in,” Masson said. For example, one page will feature the mascots of all of the home schools of the transplanted students, and several features will explain what it is like to be new at the school because of the tragedy.

While the staff is behind schedule, it’s a fall delivery book, so there is time to catch up.

Archer and Masson found the difference in their schools to be interesting. As a thank you and to help Hammon students understand their school and situation, Masson’s staff prepared a card and a CD of photos of the staff and the school, which they sent along with King Cakes, a New Orleans Mardi Gras specialty, and other items.

About 20 Walsworth customer schools responded to the Adopta-Staff request. They were eager to help other yearbook staff members get their books published.

Not many advisers accepted help. Some schools did not need it. Some schools were destroyed. Many people scattered after the hurricane and the flooding, so in some cases it took more than a month for Walsworth’s yearbook representatives to find yearbook advisers. Some schools opened after a few months, and some won’t open until next year.

It is difficult to imagine the daily life of the students along the Gulf Coast. For example, when Grace King first opened, many of the students were eating MREs (Meals Ready to Eat, usually used by soldiers). Now, the school will have an occasional Bring Your MRE to Lunch Day. Most students live with relatives; some live in trailers on the front lawn of their houses. They all look for the humor in everything to deal with the situation, Masson said. And, school is a good place to be.

“School is the refuge. It’s the most normal thing,” she said.

Idea File Staff

Idea File Staff reports are posts compiled by the Walsworth Yearbooks Marketing Department, covering a wide range of yearbook topics.