Warriors News · Penn-Trafford nurse wins Highmark nursing excellence award

In 2014, Lisa Popovich of Penn Township would never have guessed she’d now be in her fourth year as a Penn-Trafford School District nurse.

She certainly wouldn’t have guessed that she’d be receiving one of the Highmark Foundation’s Advancing Excellence in School Nursing Awards.

“This was never on my radar,” said Popovich, who was one of the foundation’s Spirit of the Year Award winners, presented to a candidate who “serves as a role model and displays a love for the school nursing profession; has compassion and caring for students, staff and families; and a willingness to learn and advance the school nursing profession,” according to a Highmark release.

It’s an honor she was hoping could have been conferred to her mentor, former school district nurse Pat Blahovec.

“We submitted nominations for her five years ago, but unfortunately she didn’t win,” said Popovich, a Gateway graduate who earned her nursing degree from West Virginia Wesleyan College and got her first nursing job at Forbes Hospital in Monroeville.

It was Blahovec who had the confidence to recommend Popovich as her successor.

“I got my school nurse certification and did my practicum with nurse Pat at the high school,” Popovich said. “On the same day I got my state license, she called and said ‘I’ve wanted to retire and been praying that the right person would come along who wanted to do it for the kids, and I think I found them.’”

Not quite understanding, Popovich asked who it was. “She told me it was me.” Popovich

When it comes to compassion for students, staff and families, Popovich has it in spades as the sponsor for the high school’s Community Action Program.

“The kids go to the Norwin Elks and the Penn Area Library and volunteer, we do a veteran’s day drive to collection clothing, food, shoes and other things to donate to the Pittsburgh VA hospital, and we’re going to the Jeannette Food Pantry this Friday, to pack boxes that will go to the high-rise in Jeannette,” she said.

Her mentor, Blahovec, oversees the food pantry. Popovich said one of her favorite things about the district is the sense of community among residents.

“I love Penn-Trafford,” she said. “We live in the district, my kids both graduated from P-T, and what’s really nice is (the award) brings $1,500 to the district that we can use to buy health-related things for our nursing program and for the kids.”

With the covid-19 pandemic forcing school closures, Popovich has spent much of her time helping to coordinate the district’s twice-weekly free lunch distributions.

“Before we even closed (Aramark food-service director) Meghan Cusack and I had gone to (superintendent) Dr. Harris and said, ‘Something’s going to happen here, and families aren’t going to be ready to have these kids home and be ready to feed them,’” she said. “We asked to put something together, we started March 16 and it’s been fabulous.”

Penn-Trafford Superintendent Matt Harris said he feels blessed to have Popovich as a nurse in the district.

“She truly has the best interest of the children and the community in her heart and no matter when you see Lisa she has one big smile on her face,” he said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, pvarine@triblive.com or via Twitter .