Tammy Dlugas was nominated by her principal, Seth Miller.
Ms. Dlugas arrived on campus after working 13 years at Whispering Pines Home for Handicapped Children, caring for the Central Upper Peninsula’s most physically handicapped and disabled children. That was 23 years ago.
“To help the reader appreciate 'Nurse Tammy,' you need to understand us," said Miller. "We are not a typical K-12 public school academy. Our mission directs us to follow tribal, state, and federal guidelines, sometimes separately, and sometimes all at once. Population-wise, we are a tribal school with only 200 students in grades K-12. Here’s the rub: our building also houses a full day childcare, three Early Head Start classrooms, two Head Start classrooms, and an adult education program that pairs families and their children to age 5. Our operation may have 400 people in the building at any one time. From birth to graduation, Nurse Tammy knows every one of the students (regardless of their age), their medical histories, their caretakers, and our staff, 100% of the time. How she does this is unknown."
As any school administrator knows, even the best written curriculum will fall flat in the wrong hands. It’s not the strength of the curriculum that matters. The impact of a curriculum can only be measured if the right person delivers it. The same idea applies to taking care of students. Ms. Dlugas has all of the skill sets needed of a licensed credentialed registered nurse. What makes her stand out, however, is the way that she delivers her care. Her compassionate grace is evident in every interaction and delivered with a healthy dose of sincere concern. She doesn’t “mail it in,” and the staff and community knows it. In regards to Ms. Dlugas, she has transformed the idea of standard of care into the humanity of care.
Now, time for some adjectives: Ms. Dlugas is one of the most compassionate and humble human beings, brimming with confidence, yet steeped in humility. She is unassuming, without a trace of arrogance.
“Being a 'Class D' Michigan school with such a wide-ranging service operation, we wear many hats throughout the day. Our school nurse is no exception," said Miller. "Not only does she don multiple hats, but she wears all of them responsibly and professionally, with just the right measure of humor and kindness to spread to others. She approaches her many diverse roles head-on. The woman is an icon of compassion, reliability, and practical comfort to all who seek her services.”
Ms. Dlugas' role in the learning community is more than considerable. As a health leader, she chairs the school wellness committee, contributes to the safety committee, gives direction as needed in department head meetings, reviews and writes health policy, attends community health and early childhood council meetings as needed…and still drops everything to tend to an injured or sick student, wherever they are, nonstop, without fail.
Ms. Dlugas directs and supervises the school’s Medical Emergency Response Team, is a contact for the suicide response team, and is a dynamic element of the school’s crisis response team. No matter the situation or the crisis, she presents in a philosophical manner, meeting all forms of trouble and challenges with a level-headed detachment.
Her administrative duties mandate compliance with all state and federal programming associated with the health and wellness of students. She must mitigate many affiliated agencies, including Inter Tribal Council, Indian Health Services, the Michigan Department of Public Health, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, tribal health offices, and two county health agencies. She consistently meets all requirements before deadlines. Her files are impeccable and current.
She has written and been awarded Building Healthy Communities Grants addressing student and staff wellness for three consecutive years. As her school’s Reproductive Health Coordinator, she enjoys teaching such an important topic to identified grades.
Whether it’s making smoothies for students, facilitating a dental clinic, trying desperately to finish her vision/hearing screenings, teaching CPR classes for staff or students, meeting with the parents of a diabetic student, doing periodic “head-checks,” or volunteering at a community function; students and families are drawn to Ms. Dlugas for needed comfort, professional care, and the simple reassurance that their day will get better.
She is a fixture at weekly “At-Risk Response Team” meetings, and has proven to be a valued resource who attends 504 teams, MTSS teams, and IEPs as needed. Unfortunately, the population of students diagnosed with diabetes is growing, and she meets regularly with food service, the tribal nutritionist, teachers, and parents to lead a comprehensive common treatment plan. Sometimes, she's even called upon to make a favorite menu item for them!
On any given day, she is seen driving to the pharmacy for medications, sending coupons for eyeglasses for students from a local service agency, escorting a student around the campus searching for their lost insulin, reminding another student to wear appropriate clothing, or manning a registration table for after-school activities. It is not uncommon on weekends to see her working a food distribution event or giving flu shots for a community event.
“She shows us daily what the human spirit is capable of,” said Miller. “We haven’t even touched on how this pandemic has impacted her role. A common anecdote is that you can’t measure the character of a person until plans go out the window or things go wrong. Due to this virus, we have seen this woman’s unwavering commitment, level of consideration, and laser-focused dedication to the health and well-being of all ages. Through the ever-changing state and tribal guidelines and policies, her demonstration of leadership and adaptability remain on full display. She has not shied from any responsibility or task, regardless of the size and scope. She leads our COVID response team with intention, steadfast conviction and diligence.”
“Fortunately for us, our school nurse is the epitome of self-care, and she truly lives her life based on our cultural 'Medicine Wheel.' She balances her own healthy lifestyle that promotes physical, social, emotional, and spiritual health. Her mindset and actions demonstrate her commitment to all four areas of the symbol. As a member of a local tribe, she is a role model for all of us. We hope that the last 23 years with us are considered her first 23,” said Miller.