What lessons have we learned from Hurricane Katrina?

Hurricane earthquake disaster damage ruined house

It is hard to believe that ten years ago many of us were glued to our television  sets watching a hurricane develop  in the Atlantic Ocean and then slowly but surely find its’ way to the Gulf Coast.  It was named –  Hurricane Katrina.  While no doubt a horrific hurricane that caused millions if not billions in damages, it truly was the flooding from when the levees broke that made this hurricane written in to the history books.  Who can forget the television footage of reporters on boats making their way through what were the beautiful streets of New Orleans? How can people erase the images of people crying out for help?  So many sad memories of those who evacuated, lost everything or suffered trauma that to this day may be unspeakable. It was “Katrina” that cast a dark shadow on the United States’ ability to help their own people during a crisis.  For many, Katrina will forever be remembered as a “one-two- three punch” of a storm.  First the hurricane, then the flooding and then the failure for help to arrive when needed the most.

Related: Video playlist of Hurricane Katrina footage and history

There is no question that we did not prepare nor evacuate and assist those in need to the best of our collective abilities.  Families were shipped off to different locales including sending relatives to opposite sides of the country. I recall meeting families who had been uprooted and sent to the Washington DC- Baltimore area. They simply were in shock. They had nothing.  Our local neighbors and religious organizations offered them food, clothing, toys for the kids and just about anything else we could think of!  I often wondered what has happened to them ten years later.  Did they go home to New Orleans?

Then there were those who refused to leave their homes. Many because they wanted to “ride out the storm”. Yet a good number wouldn’t leave as they couldn’t handle leaving behind a family pet.  Others were unsure of how their elderly relatives or ones with special needs would be able to endure shelters- so they stayed.

And now looking back we now know that for some of these families these were fatal mistakes.

There must be some lessons we have learned since August of 2005? But, what are they?  How did we alter the way we prepare and respond to disasters since Katrina? 

I believe that emergency responders never again want to have what happened during and after Katrina be repeated.  Never again do we want people to feel helpless and hopeless.  As aforementioned, many people failed to evacuate because they couldn’t bring their pets to shelters or  provide for their safety.  Others failed to evacuate because they felt they were “safe” only to be in dire straits when the levees broke.  Lives could have been saved if pets, the elderly and better communication were all in place. Although we cannot undo the tragedies of 2005, we have learned from them.

Thankfully now many laws and initiatives have been instituted that are a direct result of Katrina.  One is regarding the care of animals during emergencies. In some areas, no longer do people need to make a choice. (Read how Congress changed animal care during disasters by clicking here).  People are now encouraged to plan ahead and have “back up plans” for their animals in the event of an emergency.

Communication also has improved as now videos in multiple languages, including American Sign Language (ASL),  have been made available for all to access important information about preparations needed for families to be safe in case of an emergency situation, how to ready for impending disasters, and what to expect from response and recovery.  Local community response teams (CERT) have grown and are now a wonderful grassroots effort to help our citizens be safe, including our most vulnerable members – seniors and those with disabilities.  I can’t rave enough about these amazing people who give beyond measure by engaging the most during a time when many would prefer to go away from a disaster.

Read the changes made with emergency management following “Katrina” – a FEMA Document.

It is amazing how many people are now more responsive to hurricane warnings. After all, Katrina was suppose to be a Category 1 storm that quickly gained momentum and strength.  One of the lessons that many have learned is to have a disaster preparedness kit.  Flashlights, batteries and crank radios are now common place in people’s homes and cars.  The Red Cross has put together a very useful website chocked full of disaster preparedness recommendations.

Remember to plan with your loved ones to prepare before a disaster happens! That is the lesson we ALL can take away from Katrina and apply in preparation for any other  disasters – natural and at the hands of man. As there is bound to be “something” in our future and at least we can be ready.

I am sure that many of you have many more suggestions.  As always, please feel free to comment.

Thanks for reading and may this hurricane season be kind and gentle and not as catastrophic as Katrina.


A Letter to Teachers of Students with ADD/ ADHD.

A Letter to Teachers of Students with ADD/ ADHD.

Multiethnic Arms Raised Holding ADHD

Recently, I penned a blog about tips for parents of children with learning disabilities and how to help with homework.  Now as a part two, I am writing an additional article to address the needs of children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD or ADHD if hyperactivity is part of the diagnosis.

This is a topic I know I know a lot about!  Not only am I a full fledged member of the adult ADHD “team”.  Some people may consider this a “disability”… I consider it a gift… Most days.

Related: What is Attention Deficit Disorder in Children and Adults?

As I child I  always knew that I had more energy and impulse “issues” than most.  Although not a horrible child I could stir more than my share of trouble in a very short amount of time.

In retrospect,  I wish I could have given a “How to teach a child with ADHD letter” to all of my teachers.  If I could turn back time, the letter below is what I would have sent to each of my teachers prior to my arrival in their classroom.   If his letter resonates with one of your family members or someone you know – feel free to personalize it and send it to a teacher.   And, for those of you with ADD/ ADHD who may have some other suggestions  – please feel free to include them in the comment section below.

Dear Teachers,

Despite my cute red and curly hair and wide smile I may be one of the toughest challenges you will face all year.  You see, I am a ball of energy and exude enthusiasm, but don’t be fooled, as I have Attention Deficit Disorder.  (Note: back in the “day” when I was in elementary school they didn’t really have an official diagnosis.)

Here are some suggestions that may help me to learn and make this school year more enjoyable for both of us! (And, the rest of the students, too!)

1-  I can sustain attention to task as along as you are not boring me.  I become bored very easily.  You don’t need to repeat the same information to me again and again.  Just give me a chance to write it down and hear it once, maybe twice.  

2- Give me breaks to walk around.  I will squirm and create quite a stir in my seat if I don’t get a break every 30 minutes or so.  The exception will be when there is high stimulus changing material – such as a movie or computer time.

3- Give me a nutritious snack mid- morning.  If I am hungry then I am not learning.  i also am not paying attention.  And, this would be true of all the students.  Even crackers with cheese will help sustain my attending.

4. If I am doodling or coloring a picture during lecture time know that this is a good thing.  Doodling and coloring help me to listen and pay attention.  

5. Give me other things to occupy my time.  Modeling clay is good to occupy my hands.  If not, I may end up making balls out of bits of paper. 

6. I need organization.  Color pens and markers for me to color code my work. File folders to separate the subject matter.  All of these techniques are better than no organization at all. If you doubt that I don’t need help with organization check my backpack and desk.  I am liable to lost assignments, notes from home and my lunch money.

7.  I like to show my creative side.  So, let me do work that is multi-modal.   Let me use art and music to learn other subjects such as creating jingles to memorize math facts or social studies information. 

8.  Make me accountable for my actions.  Just because I have ADHD doesn’t mean that I don’t have to take responsibility for my behaviors.  I need to follow rules.  I need to be kind and not bully.  I need to complete my assignments. I don’t get a “pass” because I have ADHD.  Remember I am not disabled – just a different kind of learner.

9.  I can get a lot done in a short amount of time.  That is because if given tools to succeed I can do so efficiently and without much problem.  

10.  Homework is just another opportunity to be bored.  If I feel bored I am more liable to get in trouble.  So, give me meaningful tasks to complete and not work that is redundant.  Homework is redundant.  Let me do reading or creative projects, not busy work.

11. Make sure that my parents know what I am doing and not doing during the school day.  Make my parents and the parents of my peers part  of the process of our learning. (For the record both my parents were truly engaged in my education – so this is more of  a reminder for others.)  Invite mentors and retirees in to the classroom to help.  

Related: The value of grandparents in the classroom by Grandparents.com

12. I like to chat.  I am social.  If you want me to reduce my talking make sure that you follow suggestion #2 – trust me that my taking a break will make both of our lives easier.  If you want, give the whole class a break to stretch -then I won’t feel singled out.  I promise that one short break and we will all be less chatty and social.

13. Give me a job to do when I take a break.  Make me a classroom helper.  

Read related blog of a teacher who “got me” – Thank you, Miss Huntley!

14. Remember that ADD/ ADHD is often associated with learning disabilities.  

Read more about learning disabilities here.

Thank you for reading my letter and I am hoping this will be the start of a very exciting, educational and positive school year!


Tips for helping your child with learning disabilities complete homework


Welcome to the 2015-16 academic school year!

The number of children and youth ages 3–21 receiving special education services was 6.4 million, or about 13 percent of all public school students, in 2012–13. Some 35 percent of students receiving special education services had specific learning disabilities. (nces.ed.gov)

What exactly is one to glean from these statistics?  For teachers in public school it means that at least 2-3 children in the typical classroom will have more than the ordinary challenges with completing work without assistance or special programing.  And, while the public schools may have experts to assist children with learning disabilities the true challenge comes when the child arrives home and is faced with a backpack full of homework. Where are the experts to help with the homework? What are parents or caregivers to do?

Related: What are the most common types of learning disabilities?

First, I want to go on record that as a parent and School Psychologist I am not a fan of homework.  Who wants to complete hours of work after just finishing hours of work? I have a few exceptions as I do believe in long term projects that integrate multiple skills or daily recreational reading for an hour each day.  But, I understand that I am in the minority and every day millions of children come home with tons of homework.  So, with that said what is the parent of child with learning disabilities to do to make this often overwhelming situation better and maybe even painless.  Here are some tips that hopefully be helpful and abate any “homework wars”.  And, feel free to share with all parents as they are not exclusive to those with special challenges.

Tip 1:  Feed your child a nutritious snack before you begin any structured homework time.  Don’t throw a lot of sugar in to them, but give them something with substance, such as a slice of pizza, peanut butter on crackers or apples. If they are in the mood for sweets be sure to make it a healthier option.  If it comes in a sealed bag it is doubtful that it is very healthy.  (See this link for ideas of healthy snacks from Pinterest.)

Tip 2: Allow your child at least 30 minutes of exercise before settling down for homework. Play with your child and use this time to ask about their day and share about yours!

Tip 3: Have a homework box ready. Include in the homework box the following items:

Highlight pens – use highlighters of different colors. Spotlight words that are unfamiliar and underline content that is confusing.  Use different colors to help with denoting math operations by highlighting the math symbol.

Sticky Notes for a student to write questions on or use as scratch paper.

Electronic reader – such as a Kindle, iPad or Nook.  The highlighting of words and sentences for grammar and vocabulary checks are very helpful for children who have reading challenges.  Reading can be made fun with the “zillion” of options for books and magazine that are available.

Folders that are different colors and/or designs. These can be purchased for cheap.  Each subject should be placed in different colored folders. Organization is key when a child has learning difficulties.  Or just about anyone!

Voice recorder – or phone with recording feature.  A child who reads a loud or explains why they are completing problem the way they are can help for instruction or correction.

Dark piece of poster board to cover material not being worked on and too distracting for some students.

Magnifying lens bar to amplify a section of print.Click here for a sample product

Organizers to help with task identification and completion.  There are many organizers available. Please see our Signing Families resource page for suggestions.

Tip 4: Switch roles – have your student teach you.

It often is helpful to learn a concept by switching your approach from learner to teacher.  Have your child make up lessons to teach you the concepts that they are learning. Complete the homework they developed and let them grade it. This will help them understand new concepts from a different perspective. Once they have more confidence with tasks they may be more willing to tackle homework assignments.

Tip 5- Use multimodal techniques to learn.

Spelling an issue? Use the sign language alphabet to remember how to spell words.

Sign language also can help with math fact learning, too!

Click here  to learn sign language easy and fun!

Create a song to remember information that is lengthy such as for social studies or science.

Draw pictures to remember tougher concepts. Silly drawings use kinesthetic and visual memory skills.

Suggested resources



Assistive technology

Community question: What strategies would you recommend to help students with learning challenges with homework?

A Top 10 list that can save lives!

Computer generated image with text TOP 10

A TOP 10 list that can save lives! I hope that you decided to read past the title because you are a fan of David Letterman’s famous TOP 10 lists.  All kidding aside, I really am hoping that I piqued your interest because you are curious about the last part of the title – “save lives”

It is no secret that much of what as I do in media is examine topics related to communication, education, and safety.  I often have penned blogs spotlighting disaster preparedness and response, often citing personal experiences. In fact, earlier this week I re-posted an article giving general resources to help families in the event of a disaster.  I had written that article shortly after visiting many areas in Oklahoma – from cities to rural areas – that were devastated following a series of tornadoes in 2013.

Read My tour of Moore, Oklahoma

In addition, I have been involved with several specific media campaigns that focus on helping families and schools to be prepared for disasters, including earthquakes.  Currently, I am a member of a social media team that supports ShakeOut – the world’s largest earthquake drill.  ShakeOut is much more than a practice drill as it entails an  interactive educational component that is dedicated to increasing awareness about how to prepare for earthquakes. ShakeOut spotlights teaching how people should  DROP – COVER and HOLD ON when an earthquake happens. At first, this three-step protocol surprised me! I thought if an earthquake happened I should run to a doorway and stand.  I also recalled believing that it would be best to run outside away from buildings. (I am fairly certain I am not alone in assuming this was the correct procedure and am glad that I have been corrected in my thinking!)  But, thanks to  ShakeOut and their considerable due diligence of garnering information from rescue teams, there is much available information and instruction on the best practices for earthquake safety.

Why shouldn’t we run to door jams or outside during an earthquake? 

Official rescue teams who have been dispatched to the scene of earthquakes and other disasters around the world continue to advocate use of the internationally recognized “Drop, Cover and Hold On” protocol to protect lives during earthquakes: 

  • DROP to the ground (before the earthquake drops you!),
  • Take COVER by getting under a sturdy desk or table, and 
  • HOLD ON to it until the shaking stops.

If there isn’t a table or desk near you, drop to the ground in an inside corner of the building and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms. Do not try to run to another room just to get under a table.

Read more about DROP – COVER and HOLD ON!, including what to do if you are not able to take cover, are in a wheelchair or other special circumstances. (For me, it was interesting to learn what to do if in a stadium during a sporting event!) 

Recommended Earthquake Actionsdropcoverholdon_re copy

Special Note: Mark your calendars for the 2015 ShakeOut drill: October 15th at 10:15 a.m. 


I have spent considerable time perusing the ShakeOut site and I came across some great features that I thought would be of interest to families, homeschooler and educators.  Here is my list of the ShakeOut “Top 10”!

#10- REGISTER  your family, business, school, organization or individuals for the ShakeOut drill via this LINK.  When you are all finished with the very fast registration process let others know by clicking the social media platform share buttons.

Note: Fans of social media don’t miss the weekly Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety  chats by following on Twitter @ShakeOut

#9- Play BEAT THE QUAKE – a game that uses loads of action and interesting questions to spark the interest of any child or adults who are kids at heart.

Go to ShakeOut.org and find the Beat the Quake link on the right column

#8- What’s in your disaster kit?

Do you have a disaster preparedness kit?  Does it include all the essentials that are recommended by disaster preparedness specialists, such as the Red Cross and Earthquake Country Alliance.  

List of supplies for your earthquake disaster kit. 

Don’t forget to add the whistle!

#7. Let others know you are safe!

An app made available by the Red Cross allows you to communicate to loved ones that you are safe or in need of assistance during the “after” stage of an earthquake.  (Note: Similar apps also are available for other disasters such as Hurricane or Tornados)  Click here for information about the Red Cross App. (The image below also will take you to the Safe and Well Website.)

Red Cross

#6. Materials for Schools/ Educators  .  Teachers don’t miss this opportunity for a  “learning moment” contrasting the reality of actual earthquakes with the fiction presented in the 2015 Summer movie San Andreas. While entertaining, San Andreas was largely a fictionalized version of the “real deal”.  To highlight the salient facts, the Earthquake Country Alliance has made available this movie parody and supplemental materials that clearly explain the fact vs. fiction about earthquakes in a child – friendly and  entertaining manner! Both the image and this link will take you to the movie!


#5. Materials to help businesses owners  prepare and learn what to do if an earthquake happens (including in the recovery phase). Note: Don’t miss the Seven Steps to an Earthquake Resilient Business

#4. Key Earthquake Safety Tips for People with Disabilities and Other Access or Functional Needs (Regular readers of this blog will know that this is a subject near and dear to my heart)  Read these materials and much more here

Previous blog: Disaster Safety Tips for Families with Special Needs 

#3. In fact, there are so many other resources that I would need to make a Top 20 list! Note: the resources are downloadable and are visually very attractive for posting. Consider laminating if you work or live with young children.

Go to resource page

#2. Don’t speak English? No worries. The ShakeOut site is also in Spanish.

Drum Roll…

#1: Share YOUR ShakeOut with a photo or story!

Here is link to upload your story or picture! How fun is this feature?!

But wait there is a bonus to the Top 10 list!

Want to follow some fun social media posts? Simply track the hashtags #ShakeOut and #DropCoverHoldOn. You never know which friends of Where Learning Meets Laughter will be posting!  Feel free to tag me in your post as @LouiseASL (Twitter) or @LouiseMasinSattler (Instagram).

AND…I just uploaded the FAMILY and SCHOOL DISASTER RESOURCE PAGE on this blog. Please add to the comment section any additional resources you feel would be helpful within our communities to keep all safe!

Dropping popcorn in striped classic package.

In closing, it is now time for popcorn as here is a great video clip to watch and share with others!


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