Ziegler Honored by Nebraska Career, Technical Educators

Deb Ziegler, left, observes Ralston High School student Haley Coleman attempting to diagnose another student in class in 2017. (Ralston Public Schools)
Molly Ashford
The Daily Record

Former Ralston High School health sciences teacher Debra Ziegler has been honored as the Association of Career and Technical Educators of Nebraska member of the year.

ACTEN is a national organization with state chapters supporting educators in career and technical fields such as business, agriculture, trade and industrial, engineering and health sciences.

Ziegler, who retired in 2019 after 36 years at the high school, developed Ralston’s renowned health sciences pathway and medical science academy programs. A Registered Nurse and certified teacher, her two passions aligned to combine what she considered to be the “perfect” position.

“It was just so neat that I was able to use my love for teaching and nursing together at Ralston,” she told The Daily Record. “I loved going to work every day.”

A woman of many titles outside of the classroom, Ziegler acted as the director of alumni development for Nebraska’s HOSA chapter, secretary of the Nebraska HOSA board and a health services representative on ACTEN’s board.

During her first few years in education, the field was entirely dominated by girls who were interested in nursing.

“As the years went on, I tried to expand the program to make it something that would be interesting for boys as well,” Ziegler said. “I wanted it to be a class to help get kids interested in many different health careers, not just nursing.”

After years of change, the search for an evolved, integrated introduction to medicine led to the Ralston Medical Sciences Academy. The two-year program, which Ziegler led, consisted of education in and out of the classroom. After completing the application process in sophomore year, students receive a Certified Nursing Assistant credential, work at Papillion Manor Nursing Home, and spend their mornings at CHI Bergan Mercy.

“I had the most incredible kids in the academy,” she said. “They wanted to be there, and, at this point in their life, it’s really interesting to them. It took so much dedication. There were some swimmers who would have practice at 5 in the morning, and they would jump out of the pool and into their scrubs to head over to Bergen for their first block.”

Even if her students didn’t go on to study medicine, Ziegler knows that the skills instilled in the academy are useful. The students have access to work experience before college, and they are able to see if medicine is the path they want to take before committing to it.

Though she loved her time teaching the academy, Ziegler said that her favorite class to teach was Community Emergency Response Team, where she trained students in basic emergency preparedness and response, as well as basic first aid.

“The point of the training is to get individuals ready to be volunteers in the event of a natural disaster,” she said. “We did light search and rescue, learning how to determine if a building is safe to enter after a natural disaster, basic first aid skills… It was a lot of fun. We all enjoyed it so much, and I think it gave them a peace of mind, too.”

Ziegler was honored to receive the award from ACTEN, where she has served on the board since 2010.

“It was a big surprise, and it was humbling,” she said. “I had always wished that maybe I could do a little more with recruiting members in our health sciences division. But it was still really quite the honor for them to acknowledge the time that I spent doing what I love.”


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