‘She was a light’: Loved ones remember Suffolk fifth-grader who died from COVID-19

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Friends and family of 10-year-old Teresa Sperry gathered on Sunday afternoon to remember the good times they shared with her.

The family of the Suffolk fifth-grader says Teresa died in late September from complications with COVID-19.

“She liked singing a lot,” recalled one of Teresa’s friends. “So I would sing with her on the streets… she had an even more beautiful voice than mine.”

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10 On Your Side spoke with neighboring kids who said Teresa was kind and above all else – caring.

In fact, when we asked those attending her celebration of life to describe her in one word, caring was the overwhelming response.

That characteristic may have been the reason Sperry was allegedly chosen by her elementary school teacher to be the class “nurse.”

Jeff and Nicole Sperry told 10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox that Teresa told them in the car one day about her assigned responsibility. “She in the car was telling me her job was to take care of the sick kids and take them to the nurse,” Jeff Sperry said.

Suffolk School’s superintendent John B. Gordon III maintains that the role goes against school policy and that Teresa was not escorting sick children.

“It is true that the student had the job of nurse,” Gordon explained. “But that was for band-aids, ice when kids fall on the playground, etcetera.”

“The procedure that is used at the schools is anytime there is a sick student we call a ‘Code C’. We’ve verified with the teacher and the school nurse and the administration that at no time was the student walking someone to a clinic who was feeling ill.”

Regardless, Teresa did fall ill. The family tells WAVY News it started with a headache before escalating to difficulty breathing. The Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters confirmed Teresa died just five days after her first symptoms arose.

The following Thursday, Suffolk Public Schools released the following statement on Twitter:

Suffolk Public Schools is heartbroken due to the tragic loss of one of our students, Teresa Sperry. It is our intention to support the family, the school, and our entire school communinity during this very difficult time.

We will continue to follow our mitigation strategies of wearing masks, washing hands, and practicing social distancing. The school division also encourages vaccinations of both staff and students (if they are eligible).

Suffolk Public Schools will continue to follow the guidance from the Center for Disease Control with support from the Western Tidewater Health District.

Suffolk Public Schools

Teresa’s celebration of life was held at a park in Suffolk on Sunday, October 10. Pictures of the fifth-grader lined a gazebo overlooking a journal filled with memories people shared on its pages.

Young friends of Teresa spoke with 10 On Your Side about the good times they shared with her using a timeline of their own lives clearly marked by the pandemic.

“We saw each other at second grade,” explained one friend. “But we were just friends. But then when COVID started, we would go to the bus stop.”

A part of that timeline can now be broken up into two time periods: life before losing Teresa and life after.

Teresa’s brother also spoke with WAVY News and shared his favorite memories of Teresa.

“Teresa was loving and caring and helping. Whenever I was struggling with homework, she would help me. Whenever I was sad, she would help me. She kept her word most of the time. She would play Minecraft with me if I played Barbies with her.”

Although they’re feeling the loss, those who knew her are hoping the world can learn from Suffolk’s own little Mother Teresa – and start taking care of each other like she would want them to.

“Suffolk lost a very loving a very caring child you know it wasn’t just a loss for Suffolk Public Schools,” said Anthonette ward, Suffolk Public Schools Community Engagement Officer. “It’s a loss for the city of Suffolk as a whole.”

“She truly will be missed by those who knew her and unfortunately by those who didn’t get to know her. It’s just a tragedy all around and I think this should really show people how serious situations like this are and that there really are times we need to come together and support each other as a community.”

The Suffolk school district reported 60 new coronavirus cases for the week of Sept. 20-26, with two at Hillpoint. The district says the total may include a single individual who has been in multiple schools.

Suffolk’s schools require masks for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status, though Sperry was not yet eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Health officials are hoping the Pfizer vaccine for kids 5-11 will be available this fall.

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