Student connects with dead father with questionnaire
Dirk Eberhardt never expected a school assignment to turn into something more meaningful.
It was a fairly simple task: Get a parent to fill out a questionnaire and bring it back. But two years later, the 18-year-old Bullard High School senior has the responses as a forever reminder of his relationship with his father, who died last year.
"It was really comforting to know he wrote down how he felt, and I can go back and read it ..." Dirk said.
Bullard High School English teacher Jennifer Roberts started the project five or six years ago.
After her own son was born, she said she decided it was important to see her students through their parents' eyes.
"I thought, 'What would I want his teachers to know about him when he goes to school?' Just to make them not just students but kids and people beyond the classroom," she said. "I wanted to know more about my kids outside of the classroom."
So she started sending home a questionnaire for parents to fill out.
The questions have remained the same over the years. Among them are: What is your special nickname for your child? What are some goals you want for your child for the rest of his/her life? What's a favorite memory? When does your child make you angry? When does your child make you happy? What do you do to embarrass your child?
The assignment is put into a student file, which starts when they're freshman. It includes things such as essays, journals and other work they've done, Ms. Roberts said, and the students get it back when they're seniors.
She said it's a way for her students to see what their parents' goals and hopes are for them.
"I think the kids really like to see what their parents have said because a lot of times with teenagers. ... It's ... an adult/teen relationship. Then by the time they're seniors, the relationship has changed a little bit, so they're becoming more adult-like, and they appreciate what their parents have written for them," she said.
That is particularly true for Dirk.
Ms. Roberts said Dirk came to her this year to ask about the project, and she knew his father was likely the person who filled out the questionnaire.
"I lost my mother nine years ago, so I understand how important it is to have something with your parents writing and important things from your parent to you ..." she said, trying to hold back tears.
"He did it in 10th grade and happened to be looking through the folder and had forgotten about it probably and then found it."
Students don't usually get the folder back until closer to graduation, but Ms. Roberts allowed Dirk to take it.
And Dirk said he was pleased to get the questionnaire back.
"It touched my heart," he said. "It made me remember all the good things he had to say. It was just nice."
In the document, he said his father wrote about what disappoints him.
"It kind of made me laugh because he always used to get mad at me because he had to tell me to do things over and over," Dirk said.
He said his father also always called him "Dirkster," and he wrote that down as a nickname for his child. Nothing in the questionnaire surprised him, and it was nice to read, he said.
Dirk, who plans to attend Tyler Junior College and possibly transfer to The University of Texas at Tyler, said he will put the letter somewhere where nothing can happen to it.
"I'm glad (Ms. Roberts) did it, and I didn't think about it then that it was going to be that big of a deal, but things change. I'm glad that she made us do that," he said.
Ms. Roberts said the project has been beneficial for her as well. She said she doesn't discuss the answers with other people but does learn more about who her students are.
"We're pretty close to our students, but it reminds me they have people who care about them and love them because we rarely talk to parents unless something is wrong, but this shows me the positives of how their parents feel about them," she said.
She will continue the project next school year.
"I will do it for a long time ..." she said. "I didn't know it was going to make this much of an impact. I know that I enjoy it. I know the kids like getting the letters back. But I had no clue that anything like this would happen -- that it would be that special to somebody to have it."