Tag Archives: Hurricane Katrina

Part 2: Hurricane Katrina & the Emergence of a High School Hero

Last Bus Out 

Last Bus Out, by Beck McDowell

On Tuesday, May 17th, 2011, teacher Tiffany Wheeler and her students were fortunate enough to Skype with Beck McDowell the author of Last Bus Out:  The True Story of Courtney Miles’ Rescue of over 300 People in Hurricane Katrina’s Aftermath.  It was a momentous opportunity for the students to finally meet “face to face” to discuss with Ms. McDowell’s book with her.  Skyping with the author was truly a new experience for the students once they had completed the story.  This was a special culminating event for them!

The small group of students each prepared five questions throughout the course of reading Last Bus Out about Courtney Miles’ true life adventure.  They then asked Beck McDowell these questions throughout the 40 minute Skype session.  The students described their enjoyment from reading about the different relationships in the story.  Ms. McDowell added that the relationships escalated the suspense of the story. An important question asked by the students was if she had interviewed some of the main characters in the book.  In particular they wondered if she had interviewed Courtney’s mother and grandmother. Ms. McDowell stated she did several interviews with people who had been on the bus, but she was unable to meet with Courtney’s grandmother, Geraldine, or his mother.  The students also wanted to know if there were any fictional characters in her story.  Ms. McDowell debated over including any fictional characters such as changing the name of Courtney’s girlfriend, Jamie Carter, but decided in the end to use actual names.  She wanted the story to stay as truthful as possible.  What was amazing to hear from Ms. McDowell during her discussion of Last Bus Out was as Courtney loaded the people onto the bus he had no idea where he was going.  He just knew he had to get them to safety.

What does the future hold for Beck McDowell and Last Bus Out?  The students were most curious to know if Last Bus Out would be made into a movie. Now that is a wonderful idea!  Ms. McDowell stated she has started work on a script in case the opportunity should arise.

Finally here are two student reviews of Last Bus Out by Beck McDowell:

Seneca Middle School 8th grader, Ashley: “This book was amazing! I would recommend this book to people because you can learn about the world from it.  That’s what I think about Last Bus Out.”

Seneca Middle School 8th grader, Joe: “The book had great detail about the disaster in New Orleans.  The life of Courtney Miles was amazing with everyone around him dying, dropping out of school, or doing drugs.  His mother who was good and bad to Courtney was in jail most of the time.  The story is great for history people and anyone who wants to read.”

Thank you Beck McDowell for sharing your personal story with Mrs. Wheeler’s group of students!  A special thank you to Mrs. Wheeler for always striving to be the best teacher she can be for her students!

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Hurricane Katrina & the Emergence of a High School Hero

Last Bus Out: The True Story of Courtney Miles’ Rescue of Over 300 People in Hurricane Katrina’s Aftermath by Beck McDowell

Last Bus Out

Today I’d like to offer a very special thank you today to my guest blogger, Tiffany Wheeler, our middle school RTI (Response Through Intervention) Reading teacher. Also I must graciously thank Beck McDowell for writing such an incredibly emotional book, Last Bus Out, and sharing it with our students!  After discovering the book, Last Bus Out, by Beck McDowell, I immediately approached Tiffany with the idea of using McDowell’s e-book with a group of her students.  Last Bus Out is the true account of Courtney Miles’ courageous and heroic efforts during the aftermath devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  What made this particular e-book so enticing was the story itself plus the fact there were photos AND 25 links for further research for the readers.  McDowell not only recounts Miles’ fascinating story but also brings the story to life for the reader by  including links such as The Times Picayune-Interactive Graphics: Flash Flood: Hurricane Katrina’s Inundation of New Orleans, August 29, 2005and an ABC News video of the Katrina Survivors Searching for Food

Here is Tiffany Wheeler’s account of how she implemented the use of Beck McDowell’s book, Last Bus Out, with her classroom students.

This is a wonderful, eye awakening nonfiction story about an underprivileged, talented high school hero.  During the time of the national crisis of Hurricane Katrina, this young man finds inner strength and courage to lead a rescue mission even though he fears it will sacrifice his future goal of being a college bound successful basketball player.  The author does an excellent job integrating the life of Courtney Miles, the reaction of the victims of New Orleans, and the role of the government.  The most intriguing part of the book is the fact of how the author has inserted websites supporting events in the text.  This made the book the most interactive text I have had the pleasure to share with students.

As an RTI Reading teacher, finding a piece of literature that has a truly personal affect on students is an amazing accomplishment and Beck McDowell has helped me to achieve this.  Since my students are more comfortable at a computer screen to view the websites instead of using the Kindle screen, the mixing of the two technologies had a great impact on their motivation to read.  I observed both students actually feeling the stress the victims felt and the awe of Courtney’s heroism.  The students constantly questioned Courtney’s desire to keep going as they learned more information about his background.  The book teaches the lesson to students to never give up on dreams and how achievements are not just handed out, but earned.  My students are from a small rural town and are therefore quite limited to the exposure of inner city conflicts.  The author made my students realize how racism and different lifestyles have a large impact on whom you are and who you become.  Since I was only working with two students, we were able to have great discussions about a large variety of issues which the book raises.

If I were to do the lesson with a larger group of students, which I plan to implement for the next school year, I would take advantage of the author’s lesson plans found at the end of the book.  There are questions and journal topics for each chapter.  My students made a bulletin board display of the different resources found online that were mentioned in the book. There were also a few websites they found for themselves which were pertinent to the topic of the story. 

As a final activity after reading the book we will have the opportunity to Skype with the author, Beck McDowell.  To prepare for the interview I had the students brainstorm a list of possible questions to ask the author as we were reading Last Bus Out.

Here are a few of the questions:

  • Why did you choose to write about Hurricane Katrina?
  •  How did you select Courtney Miles as the main character?
  • Why was his story so important to share?
  • Are there any fictional characters in the book?
  • How did you get Courtney to trust you with such personal information, i.e. his girlfriend and childhood experiences?

 Sometimes the questions were later answered within the text, but it was a way to keep the students actively thinking beyond the text.  A few times they would come back after a weekend and announce they had thought of another question to ask.  We are the first group of students at Seneca Grade School to interview an author via Skype and we really appreciate the opportunity. 

Thank you, Beck McDowell!

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