Palm Crest Elementary School staff, students and family received heartbreaking news this week that beloved 3rd-grade teacher Terese Chiames Caire died of complications from the COVID-19 virus on April 28.
Caire taught 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th and, most recently, 3rd grade in her 27-year tenure at PCR.
“Mrs. Caire has been a valued member of our LCUSD community for 27 years and has developed many deep and lasting relationships with students, families and colleagues,” La Cañada Unified School District Superintendent Wendy Sinnette wrote in a letter to the LCUSD community. “Mrs. Caire will be missed.”
PCR Principal Cory Pak informed the staff last week and they are “actively preparing to provide support services to help their students, families and each other cope” with the loss, according to Sinnette.
“It’s a huge loss to our school community. She’s been a beloved member of our community for 27 years,” said Pak, pausing as he tried to explain how the school staff and parents are handling the news.
The school sent out a personal email to parents of students earlier this week to inform them of her passing away, he said.
“It’s not easy for anyone to hear this tragic news. Our staff is incredibly sad,” he continued, noting that parents will have to use their wisdom as to when and how to tell their children, who knew and loved “Mrs. Caire.”
“None of us know how to do something like this because we are all grieving at the same time as well,” he said, adding that the outpouring of love and appreciation for the dedicated teacher has been meaningful. “Clearly, one of Mrs. Caire’s strengths was developing deep and lasting personal relationships with students, both current and past, her fellow teachers and her parents across the community. She was such a great teacher but also such a great person and had many, many friends here.”
One of those friends was Maria Vasiliou, whose son was in Caire’s third-grade class three years ago. She visited the family to drop off flowers and saw one of the family’s car license plates, bringing back one of her many fond memories of the teacher.
“That took me back to 2007 when we just moved here,” she recalled. “We just had a little boy and didn’t know anyone in the area. We went to a restaurant we’d always go to and I saw a license plate written in Greek. As we were walking in, they were walking out, and I asked if that was her license plate and she said yes, and we both thought, ‘Another Greek family!’ She was wonderful, and told us that our kids would love it here and we’d meet wonderful people. She was right.”
That welcoming presence was what Caire was known for, and local parent Frances Dong appreciated her kindness with children as well as parents.
“Mrs. Caire was great, personable and very caring, living to her name,” Dong said. “She’s also a very fair teacher. If a child would do something wrong, she’d come out and tell them in a fair way and give a chance for parents to talk to students without any judgments.”
The many bonds she forged with the community made the news that much more devastating and put parents in a difficult position of grieving while informing their child of her death.
“I think this one hits home hard,” stated Dong, whose daughter Chloe Chung was a student of Caire this school year. “We recently had another family member, a great grandmother, pass away. It’s a little different because she lived far away, but this is one of her teachers, who she saw every day and was in communication with. One thing she’s missed most was going to school and seeing friends and her teacher.”
Vasiliou also faced the difficult task of explaining the situation to her son, who was Caire’s student three years ago.
“We lost Kobe [Bryant] this year and he was a very big role model to my kids,” Vasiliou said. “They all played basketball and love the Los Angeles [Lakers]. When he died, it was traumatic, and when [Caire] passed away, it resounded the same. [My son’s] question was, ‘First we lost him, and now we lose her. Why? Why them?’ As a parent you want to have all the answers, but sometimes you don’t.
“The only thing I could think of in both cases was telling them that sometimes God takes them before their time because their light will shine brighter. We will continue her legacy by doing great things, and strive to do things just like her. Maybe we’ll be better people for it because her light sparked a little flame in all of us.”
A private funeral service for Caire will be held at St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church in Pasadena this morning, May 7, and it will be livestreamed on Chapman Funeral Chapel’s Facebook page, facebook.com/ChapmanFunerals.
The Caire family requested privacy during this difficult time and that flower donations be made to St. Anthony Philoptochos Charitable Society at 778 S. Rosemead Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107 or Saint George Greek Orthodox Church located in 2219 N. Orchard, Fresno, CA 93703.
Camila Castellanos contributed to this report.