This is L.E.A.D.'s NJ Instructor of the Year, Julie Ann Zeigler
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photos provided by Julie Ann Zeigler
TIR: Congratulations on being named “NJ Instructor of the Year” by LEAD. How long have you been an Instructor with the L.E.A.D program?
Julie Ann Zeigler: Thank you! It was a wonderful surprise at the 7th Annual 21st Century Drug & Violence Prevention Training Conference. I am thankful to have been able to share this moment with some of my past and present fellow officers of the Rutherford Police Department.
I am honored to be recognized by the L.E.A.D. Board of Directors and my distinguished peers for my “outstanding efforts in implementing the L.E.A.D. program benefiting my community and state in an exemplary fashion."
In 2000, I began working closely with the sixth-grade students in the Rutherford Public Schools as an instructor whose purpose was prevention education geared towards resistance to violence, alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. In 2015 I played a pivotal role in our agency collaborating with Law Enforcement Against Drugs (L.E.A.D.) and ultimately pursuing the progressive approach of evidence-based prevention education. It is then I was certified as a L.E.A.D. Instructor for the Too Good for Drugs Curricula grades K-8.
I have always been passionate about evidence-based, prevention science that gives communities the tools to address their adolescent health and behavior problems by identifying risk and protective factors. My passion has led me to actively pursue continued education and I have successfully completed the High School Too Good for Drugs and Violence curriculum with L.E.A.D.
Currently, I am the senior L.E.A.D. Instructor for the Borough of Rutherford Police Department (RPD) under the direction of Police Chief John R. Russo. Throughout the years, I have worked with truly dedicated professionals at RPD to provide the highest quality evidence-based program to our community’s youth.
Chief John Russo told TIR, "I was very pleased to get the notification that Sergeant Zeigler was L.E.A.D.'s Instructor of the Year; however, I was not the slightest bit surprised. She embraced this role several years ago and has not looked back since. Sergeant Zeigler's work ethic is second to none and as a Master L.E.A.D. Instructor, she has put a fine team together here at RPD that has a true desire to keep our community's youth on a drug-free path. L.E.A.D. Instructor of the Year is another great accomplishment in a very impressive career here with the Rutherford Police Department".
TIR: Throughout the years, how have you seen the LEAD program change?
JAZ: In 2015, Rutherford Police Department trained three members of this agency to become LEAD Certified Instructors: Sergeant Craig Capoano, Officer Scott Ahearn, and myself. Since that time the RPD has continued to train officers in the anti-drug program: Katherine Calienni (L.E.A.D.er), Alexandra Arnold (Instructor), and Bruce Reed (Instructor). While our agency has seen significant growth in instructors, so has L.E.A.D. Currently, there are 3,000 Certified Instructors nationwide and the L.E.A.D. program is now in 41 states
For as long as the Rutherford Police Department has been involved in prevention education, we have taught the 6th graders in both the public schools and Academy at St. Mary. With the Academy of St. Mary no longer existing, we now teach at the public schools which annually consist of 175-225 students.
Principal of Pierrepont School, Joan Carrion, explained, "We are very pleased to see Sgt. Zeigler recognized. She works very hard to coordinate with the school to make the LEAD program a relevant and engaging program for our 6th graders. Pierrepont School is very happy to partner with the Rutherford Police Department on the LEAD program."
In 2019 the Rutherford Police Department was able to successfully initiate an after-school program with the third-grade students of Lincoln School through the collaboration of Dr. Jeanna Velechko. Once the Covid-19 pandemic took place, and students attended online classes, the program was postponed.
"Sgt. Zeigler throughout the years has shared educational opportunities with me. Her intention to have a positive impact at an early age is evident. Sgt. Zeigler brainstormed a flexible schedule so every student had the opportunity to participate in the LEAD program. She shared resources and lesson objectives so the school's personnel could complement the mission of the LEAD program. Sgt Zeigler is a wonderful resource for Lincoln and our families! She deserves this award!" explained Dr. Jeanna Velechko.
TIR: What have been your goals as a L.E.A.D. Instructor?
JAZ: Over the years, my goal has been to educate the community about what their hometown heroes do in order to provide an evidence-based anti-drug program to the youths of Rutherford. Our dedicated officers are committed to protecting our youth from the proliferation of drugs, drug-related crimes, and violence. In order to do so, I have sought additional training and have completed them allowing me to bring the best tested and proven effective education to our youth along with my partners at the Rutherford Public Schools, Community Stakeholders, families, and RPD Staff.
In 2017 I was fortunate enough to be selected to join the L.E.A.D.er training program and successfully completed the training. In 2019, I was selected to represent L.E.A.D. at the University of Washington and successfully completed training for Communities That Care Plus Training of Facilitators. Since that time, I have successfully completed the L.E.A.D. Master Trainer Program and have now joined forces with some of the best instructors around the country teaching young officers the fidelity of the Too Good programs so that they can bring it back to their communities.
This past winter I was invited by L.E.A.D. to attend Digital Threat Assessment® training both virtually and then in person in Las Vegas, NV. I am truly honored to have been among the few that were handpicked to expand our knowledge base allowing law enforcement to take a deeper look into the internet and online search techniques that will assist our agency, schools, and other law enforcement agencies navigate the vast world of adolescent online behavior.
TIR: Are some of your former female L.E.A.D. students now also working in Law Enforcement?
JAZ: Female students from the Rutherford Police Department's previous alcohol, tobacco, and other drug prevention programs have become full-time Police Officers in Myrtle Beach, SC, and the NYPD. Earlier in my career, I had the opportunity to work alongside their fathers. I recall each of them telling me how I was a positive role model not only for their daughters but for all women in the future of law enforcement. Watching these young women grow and transform into a vital part of the law enforcement community is extremely rewarding.
My first group of L.E.A.D. students would be approximately 18 years old now. Just old enough to take the NJ Civil Service Commission entry-level police officer exam this spring.
TIR: What is most rewarding about teaching sixth graders in the LEAD program?
JAZ: As a L.E.A.D. Instructor, you are given an opportunity to educate and inspire young minds to hopefully grow up and make a positive difference in the world. As instructors, we have an important role as influential individuals in a child's life by inspiring, encouraging, and motivating them to reach their full and healthy potential.
L.E.A.D. days are very rewarding for us as instructors. In the classrooms, we are surrounded by love from our students! It is such an honor to be able to teach students and love them while they are in our care for the 10-week program.
TIR: You have been with the RPD since 1999, what do you enjoy most about working with the RPD and working in Rutherford?
JAZ: Rutherford is my hometown, it's a great community. There are a lot of stories here when you peel back the layers and dive into its history.
Lucky for me, there may be no secrets in small towns, but there are no strangers either. Early in my career, Mrs. Maryann Mayerczak was a teacher at Washington School who recognized the importance of community-police engagement. While I had not known her at the time, that did not stop Mrs. Mayerczak from recruiting me to join her class monthly and I was happy to do so. From there as a volunteer, I developed our Adopt-A-Cop program and ran it successfully for many years. This was a wonderful time in my career when I visited Washington, Sylvan, and Lincoln Schools to speak to the students about making healthy and safe choices once a month.
Building trust by bridging the gap between police and communities establishes a solid foundation of trust, which is vital to community stability and community-police transparency. Without Mrs. Mayerczak’s invitation into her classroom, I may not have easily fulfilled my professional goal with community policing initiatives in my hometown.
For more information about L.E.A.D. and upcoming events: www.leadrugs.org