A Closer Look at Homeschooling

Artesia has an active and vibrant homeschool community. While the notion of homeschooling is old, the practice has been gaining popularity in recent years. The reasons homeschool families choose to homeschool are as varied as the people. For some families the freedom in their schedule that homeschooling their children allows draws them to the movement, while others are drawn to presenting a Christian worldview. Some simply find that the bonding time with the children is integral to their healing or development, while others are seeking to ditch the pressure of high stakes testing, bullies or other peer pressures.

Curriculum options abound, and the choices are as varied as the reasons families choose to homeschool. Stephen and Aleja Thatcher have been homeschooling their seven children for many years and have enjoyed the freedom of being able to choose the curriculum that works best for the individual needs of each of their children. They can pick the program that suits their family’s needs in math and science, for instance, and choose another program from a different publisher for English. Aleja explained that homeschool parents have to register with the state every year, but they do not have to provide records. The Thatchers choose to keep detailed records of grades and courses to provide to the state as proof that the student met the requirements to graduate and take college entrance exams. To date, two of their children have graduated, one of whom, their daughter Harley, is currently a freshman at Texas Tech University.

Alan and Ashley Brooks have also chosen to homeschool their children. While they started out in public schools, they chose to switch to homeschooling after their son, who has high-functioning autism, experienced some difficulties with bullies. Ashley mentioned that once they made the transition, they were able to see some benefits for their children, such as the freedom of play in their school work and being “allowed to be kids.” She also feels their focus has improved without the distractions of transitions and lining up times that happen in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Another advantage they have enjoyed is having the ability to go in-depth into subjects that really hold interest for her children. She feels like the home/work/life balance is much better, helping them not feel as rushed. Her children are able to participate in many activities such as plays at church, dance, piano and sports. She is fond of the Charlotte Mason Method style of education as well as the Apologia Science program, which presents science with a biblical worldview.

Another homeschooling option is to go through a private school program. Micha and Brooke Foster’s children have all attended public school during their elementary years but have opted to be homeschooled as they enter middle school. Brooke was originally resistant to the idea since she wasn’t sure about being her child’s teacher. The Fosters use the curriculum provided from Faith Christian Academy in Carlsbad. She likes that her children have access to some instruction through the school, and as an added bonus, the school keeps the records for them. She admits that her only regret is not trying it sooner. She enjoys having a better home/life balance with her children and feels less stressed. The children still have plenty of opportunities to be social through sports, church and other activities; both of her older boys participate in sports through Artesia Public Schools. 

Dan and Marissa Phelps have also chosen to school their children at home. Marissa stated that homeschooling appeals to families who have children with disabilities, military families, missionary families, international families or families with children that are not thriving in the public school environment. Dan is the pastor at First Evangelical Presbyterian Church, located at Fourth Street and Grand Avenue, where the homeschool group Classical Conversations meets on Tuesdays. Shirley Bailey is a local tutor for the program and has experience working in public, private and residential schools. She likes that the program encourages accountability and critical thinking skills and that the strands (subjects) are complimentary to one another. When students meet on Tuesdays they often play learning games, debate and teach what they learn to one another. Parent Riann Holder said she has really enjoyed making the leap to homeschooling and noted that even inside the Classical Conversation program that her family uses are numerous opportunities to individualize the program to suit her children’s needs. Having a Christian curriculum and the influence of Christian peers is important to her family, and she is pleased with what she has found in Classical Conversations. The group also hosts social events, such as a recent get-together on Valentine’s night in which the students invited community members to help them practice the art of conversation and etiquette.

Another option for parents who want to homeschool their children but want to stay connected to public school standards and curricula is through Pecos Connections Academy in Carlsbad, which offers a K-8 public online school. Students have access to experienced teachers via telephone and online group lessons. Some of the school staff are located in Carlsbad, but other teachers are located around the state in other cities such as Las Cruces and Lovington. The school offers clubs and groups and hosts get-togethers around the state as well. The school bills itself as a good option for students who want to spend more time devoted to activities like dance, gymnastics and rodeo that may take the student away from a traditional school setting and allow the student to complete work on his or her own time. High school students can attend New Mexico Connections Academy, which serves students in grades 4-12.

Some of the local homeschool moms have turned to Facebook to help organize social activities for their students. A Facebook group called Home Schoolers of Artesia helps get the varied students together for activities. Some of them meet for a joint science lesson once a week, and others help organize holiday parties such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas. Recent posts highlight a pottery class being offered to homeschoolers. Marissa Phelps mentioned they have had a running group in the past and are looking for volunteers to help in the areas of physical education, music and art. Many of the students in the group participate in a sewing class taught by Susie McCaw on Monday evenings that is open to any student. Local homeschool students also participate in the classes provided by the Ocotillo Performing Arts Center. Amanda Lamb, who homeschools her kindergarten daughter, says the group meets to plan out a calendar for the year, and she enjoys being able to share information with other parents at the meeting.

One drawback to homeschooling can be the cost. It is not funded by public education, which means parents must foot the bill for the curriculum they choose to use. Costs range in price from a few hundred dollars a year up to $1,200 a year. One benefit of buying the materials is that they can often be handed down to use for a younger student, and used copies are sometimes available for purchase. Connections Academy is free to U.S. students and does provide some equipment needed for school. Making the choice to homeschool will also require a devoted parent who either has a flexible work environment or is able to stay at home with the students.

To connect with the Facebook group Home Schoolers of Artesia, visit or search Home Schoolers of Artesia on Facebook.

For more information about Classical Conversations, Shirley Bailey may be reached at 575-626-9165 or you may find out more at

Pecos Connections Academy can be reached at or by calling 844-227-0920.


Like Father Like Son... Sort Of

Dr. Marshall Baca Jr.

If you ever want to see someone multitask, look no further than an emergency room doctor. One Tuesday morning in February I showed up for my meeting with Dr. Marshall G. Baca, Jr., or “Baby Baca” as his staff of nurses jokingly refer to him, and set up shop in the ER’s break room. There was a sense of urgency in the atmosphere, but not panic. The emergency room was busy, but not chaotic. And everyone on staff was in full work mode but still friendly.

I knew going into the interview that I needed to block off a couple of hours in my schedule due to the unpredictability of emergency room activity, which is what I did. Admittedly, I assumed it would be rather slow since it is Artesia, after all, and how many emergencies would take place on a Tuesday morning in our small town? But I blocked off the morning anyway, just in case. It was a good thing I did because my assumptions were wrong. Very wrong. 

Not long after I arrived in the break room and set up my laptop, Julie Gibson, director of business development at Artesia General Hospital, joined me and we chatted for a bit over a cup of coffee about Doctors Baca Jr. and Baca Sr. in preparation for the interview.

Baca Jr. finally resurfaced, and rather than joining us in the break room for the interview, he requested we join him up front where he could answer my questions without having to put his work on hold. Careful not to violate any HIPPA laws, I was then able to do my work by watching his.

I observed for some time as he went room to room, assessing patients and answering their questions, dictating notes and interacting with nurses and other emergency personnel. One particular instance showed me a broader view of his bedside manner. The caring and sincere yet tactfully informative way in which he dealt with a woman who had brought a sick family member into the ER was notable. I was impressed by the manner in which he handled such a complicated and emotional situation. One person on staff described him as having a way of “making each patient feel like they are the only patient he has,” regardless of the countless others waiting their turn to see him.

In between treating patients and dictating notes, he filled me in on parts of his life that eventually led him to Artesia General Hospital to practice emergency room medicine. As a child, his view of medicine differed from most of his peers because his father, Dr. Marshall Baca Sr., was immersed in medical school and eventually in building his own orthopedic practice in Carlsbad. “My parents had me at a young age; he was in college. There was no way at that time that I had any desire to go into the medical field,” he admitted. “I saw how much my dad worked, and I didn’t think I wanted that for me and my family.”

For that reason, he studied business in college and became somewhat of an entrepreneur, dabbling in the wine industry in California before going to work for a medical supply company called Stryker. “That’s what switched me to go into a different profession,” he declared.

He soon realized his passion for the medical field was perhaps deeper than he had initially realized, and he decided to go back to school to study medicine, and back on his word of “never becoming a doctor.” Having majored in business, he first had to complete two more years of undergrad studies in science before even beginning medical school.

His wife, Annie, was working toward her master’s degree at the time as well. “It was a discussion we had to have before I even started medical school. It fit our life plan, but we knew it would mean we had to make a lot of sacrifices; she‘s always been very support of me though.”

Baca Jr. graduated from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso in June 2016 and by July was working full time as an emergency room physician at Artesia General Hospital, an employer he shares with his father, Marshall Baca Sr., M.D., an orthopedic surgeon.

“I had my reservations about coming to a small town; I was afraid it might be too slow, but we see tons of trauma and sick people here,” he expressed. “It was surprising.” In order to help pay off medical school loans and hone his skills even further, he continues to work part time at a level one trauma center in El Paso. For all the similarities between the dynamic Baca duo, they will both tell you there are certainly a number differences as well. “I’m probably a little bit more uptight than him. I’m more of a planner,” Baca Jr. contended. “I feel like I have my life mapped out, and he is more of a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type.” And perhaps it’s a generational thing, but the junior Baca admits to being a more “direct” communicator than his father, who tends to lean on “implication” to get his points across.

Outside the workplace, both men love the outdoors, but Baca Jr. prefers hiking or playing golf while Sr. is an avid hunter. “That’s something he shares with my brother; they both love hunting,” Jr. acknowledged.

If you ask Baca Sr. about the differences between his son and him, he tends to agree with his son’s assessment, adding, “I see him as more regimented. Maybe I’m just loosening up the older I get, but I very much see him that way.”

In terms of their careers, the elder Baca commends his son on his work ethic and dedication to the field of emergency medicine, but he acknowledges it’s not a field for him. “I couldn’t handle that much adrenaline on a daily basis,” he reckoned. “I like predictability, and the ER is anything but. Marshall likes the unknown. It’s a good fit for him.”

Dr. Marshall Baca Sr.

Unlike his son, who had no interest in medicine as a child, Dr. Marshall Baca Sr. knew from a very early age that he wanted to become a doctor. He admitted to not having much information back then about what becoming a doctor entailed, but that never deterred him. “I know we were dearly close to our pediatrician at the time, but I didn’t have anyone in my family in medicine. We had a number of business owners, but no doctors. But I knew it was something I wanted to do.” The Baca family were early settlers in the Socorro area of New Mexico and can trace their roots back generations, to the 1600s, before the United States was even the United States. During World War I, most of the family moved out west to California, where the men went to fight in the war and the women entered the workforce.

Baca Sr. was born in California and then promptly moved with his family to Mexico until the age of three. Having lived in Mexico from age three to 12, he returned to the States with his family and attended middle school, high school and college in El Paso. After a rocky start to his college years—he confessed he initially majored in foosball and having fun—an advisor interceded and changed the trajectory of his career by asking him what he wanted to do with his life. He knew then, just like he knew as a child, that he was meant to study medicine, so with the help of the advisor, he shifted gears and set out on the proper path to becoming a doctor.

Deciding to become a doctor was step one; step two was deciding on a specialty. “Marshall was a seven-weeks-early preemie and was in ICU (Intensive Care Unit) for weeks. That’s part of the reason I went into pediatrics,” he shared. “As you go through medical school you’re exposed to a lot of primary care, but as you experience things you find a niche.” So how did the talented surgeon at Artesia General Hospital go from treating babies to replacing knees? “I worked with my mentor, who was the chief of pediatric surgery at the hospital I worked at in Houston at the time. He ended up moving, and with [his departure] came a new department head,” Baca Sr. explained. He and his mentor’s predecessor butted heads, and the experience “turned him off” from pediatrics. “All of the sudden I had an orthopedic rotation, and it was eye-opening.” He realized orthopedics provided him an opportunity to become somewhat of an engineer for the human body. “I love orthopedics. I could do this until I’m 90,” he quipped. “I don’t think I will, but I could!”

Once he settled on making a career in orthopedics, serendipity led him to New Mexico. “I looked at other places, but coming out of medical school and having student debt, the best opportunity was in Carlsbad,” he confided of the decision he made nearly 22 years ago. “We had three kids by then, and we felt like it was a good place to raise them and start my practice.” So for the next 16 years, Baca Sr. owned a successful private orthopedic practice in Carlsbad; until, that is, the folks at Artesia General Hospital came calling. Today, six years into his stint at AGH, patients travel from all over the region seeking his expertise. Much like his son, Baca Sr. is known for being patient-focused, pleasant to work with and dedicated to his profession.

They might differ in many aspects of their personal lives, but Drs. Marshall Baca Sr. and Marshall Baca Jr. share the most important qualities when it comes to their careers: They treat their patients, co-workers and other staff with respect, and they manage to find joy and


When We Open Our Eyes

“He will open his eyes when he is ready.” After the fourth doctor told me this about my son Duke, I began to have my doubts. When I asked why my son’s eyes were not opening, the most frequent response I received was, “He isn’t ready.” I could not wrap my mind around why my child would refuse to open his eyes for a week straight after birth. My first thought was, “Is he able to see?” Every doctor assured me he was able to see. Every day of our week-long stay in the hospital I would ask why and what I could do to convince him to open his eyes. The answer was to wait and let him open them when he is ready. We left the hospital without having seen his eyes. I had wished for dark blue eyes throughout my pregnancy, but little did I know it would be another four weeks before I would truly see them.

Duke’s pediatrician did not know what was causing his inability to open his eyes either. She spent 45 minutes of his two-week appointment researching possible reasons. Her search turned out as unsuccessful as mine. She ultimately referred us to another doctor at a nearby eye clinic.

It was there I was told he most likely had ptosis, also known as “lid lag.” Ptosis is a condition in which the upper eyelid droops, impairing vision and in some cases even causing blindness. The specialist informed us that surgery was the best way to manage it, but what he said next left me so humbled and appreciative. He said, “I am able to do this procedure, but I know someone who is the best.” To see not one but two different medical professionals admit they have room to learn and grow inspired me to continue to learn every day.

Daily until the appointment with the second specialist, I wondered what the future would hold for my beautiful baby boy. I experienced a feeling I had only heard about when working in the education field. It could only be described as the “death of your ‘perfect’ child.” That’s when I realized his life will be different. His experiences will not be like those of others his age. He will see the world differently, and even more frightening is realizing the world will see him differently. I was overcome with worry and guilt: worry that he would be looked at with pity, worry that the world would be cruel to him, guilt that I caused this condition in some way. With time these feelings transformed to pride and understanding.

The next doctor we saw, like the ones before him, was excellent about communicating and making sure I understood everything. It was here Duke was given his formal diagnosis. He was born with a genetic condition known as blepharophimosis, ptosis and epicanthus inversus syndrome (BPES). In addition to the “lid lag,” Duke’s eyes are much more narrow than average and his lower eyelid is fused to the corner of his eye. It was not until later that I found out how rare his condition actually is. I listened to the doctor, trying to understand these huge words I had never heard before. As my mind spun I looked down at my nursing baby and was overcome with a sense of calm. That’s when the worry started to lessen and transform just a bit.

Next came the prognosis. Like all genetic diseases, there is no cure for BPES, but it is treatable. The first step in treatment was to monitor his light reflexes, which indicated his ability to see. Thankfully his vision was determined to be completely normal. His doctor scheduled a surgery called frontalis sling. Duke was placed under anesthesia while the surgeon implanted three silicone cords to attach each of Duke’s upper eyelids to the muscles in each of his eyebrows. Prior to the procedure I was told there was a chance this same procedure would need to be repeated. When the doctor returned to inform me of the outcome, he made it clear this would not the last time Duke would have surgery. My heart sank once again.

As I walked to his room the worry returned. It only worsened when I was with him, his puffy face screaming to be fed. As he began to eat, my feelings were bittersweet. For the first time I was able to see the slate blue eyes of my grandfather looking back at me, but I knew this would not be the last time I would comfort him through this hardship.

Until his life-changing operation, Duke Harper was not able to open his eyes due to a rare genetic disorder. Pictured here, he is wide awake but appears to be sleeping because his eyes are closed.Over the next several days his dad and I would apply antibiotics to his eyes three times a day. Each time I was astounded by the strength of a baby only five weeks old. As I watched him heal, the worry was changing to pride again, but it was different this time. It was more solid, more secure and growing every day.  Every now and then a rude comment, “What’s wrong with his eyes?” or “Why does he look like that?” will try to put little cracks in the once ugly place which pride restored, but all I have to do is look at Duke’s smile and all those cracks are sealed. 

While worry had become pride, the guilt was still there. I carried guilt that I somehow had caused Duke’s condition. At this point I decided he should see a geneticist. I needed to know what to expect and if it would affect his life in ways other than his facial features. It was here guilt turned to understanding. We learned that when a gene mutates, it is unavoidable and has no exact cause. The gene is just made a bit different, and there is nothing wrong with different. I was relieved to learn that BPES does not affect males in any location other than the eye muscles.

Duke sees his optometrist regularly at this point but has not been scheduled for his next surgery as of yet. He is a happy, healthy spitfire of a child with a wild spirit. My heart swells with pride when I look at him and consider the journey his has made. Two years later, he is all boy. He loves to run, jump and play outside. He has not suffered any developmental delays, and he has an ornery streak that forces you shake your head and laugh. He is a loving, intelligent boy. I know he is destined to do great things regardless of the shape of his eyes.


Teacher Feature: Cody Hanagan

In this new segment profiling educators, allow us to introduce you to Cody Hanagan, director of special education for the Artesia Public School District.

Hanagan earned a master’s degree from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Having grown up in western New Mexico, she admitted she was not thrilled with the idea of moving to the opposite side of the state in 1994 after her husband accepted a position teaching high school agriculture. “I tell people that I did not come willingly, but it was by far the best decision we ever made! I grew up on the west side of the state surrounded by mountains. The east side of the state was just so different from where I grew up, but Artesia has been our home since day one,” she shared. 

Hanagan started teaching special education in 1985 in Des Moines, New Mexico, and was the only special education teacher in the school district. “I taught students from preschool age through high school. I had 10 students, so I had 10 individualized lesson plans,” she revealed. In 1987, they moved to Socorro, where she also taught kindergarten through third grade special education, and she had between 15 and 19 students in the program. “I was responsible for meeting all of their academic needs, so we worked on reading, math, science and social studies. I worked with students from different backgrounds with different disabilities. That was before I had children of my own, so they were my kids, and we were a family!”

 Having always been intrigued by the way in which people learn and why some students struggle to learn what comes so easy for others, she decided to go back to school and obtain a master’s degree in educational diagnostics in 1993. After moving to Artesia in 1994, she began working as the Preschool Transition Coordinator and diagnostician for the school district. “I had never imagined working with that age group, but I quickly learned that was where I needed to be,” she confessed.

She became an “early interventionist” at heart after seeing what a difference early intervention makes. In the spring of 2007, she was hired as Artesia’s special education director. “It has been a journey that has taken me from teaching in the classroom to completing evaluations and meetings to set up services for students to overseeing the department that is responsible for providing the services offered through special education. It has been an awesome experience to learn and grow and change with each position as well as all of the changes that have taken place in the field of special education.”  

 When she first moved to Artesia, Hanagan recalled the district’s motto, “Children first,” which is still the motto and philosophy of the district today. “Artesia Public Schools are one of a kind!” she boasted. “Every decision that is made, regardless of what the question is, starts with What is best for kids? As I have met and talked with people from other places, I have gained even more appreciation for this. We wake up in the morning with our daily goal to do what is best for kids. I personally have not experienced that any place else.” 

 Something she wants people to understand about her department, however, is that special education is heavily regulated by both the federal government and the state through laws, policies and procedure, and everything the teachers and therapists do is individualized for each child. “We are working with children starting at three years of age into adulthood with a variety of learning disabilities, physical disabilities, emotional disabilities as well as those who are in our enrichment classes,” she explained. “We don’t have an unlimited amount of money, and we can’t always do everything that we would like to do, but we try to put the needs of each child first and treat them as we would treat our own child with the resources we are given. I know it can be frustrating at times when we can’t provide something that a family would really like for their child, but we try to be equitable in how we allocate our resources across the district to meet those individual needs. It is our passion that every child will use their strengths and talents to be successful in school and in life.” 

 So what is it that she finds so rewarding about her job that it has become her passion? She’ll tell you with no shortage of words that it all boils down to the people. “I am blessed to work with the most caring group of teachers, therapists, diagnosticians and other support providers. They work so hard every day for students. They never give up, and they are always trying to find a better way or a more successful way of teaching students new skills or helping them to achieve at a higher level. Every time we are given a new directive or a new requirement, the special education staff pulls together to make it happen. Students are learning, growing and achieving every day because of the hard work of so many dedicated people and the relationships and trust so many families place in us every day.” 

 In addition to the “Children first” motto, another phrase that she tries to teach as well as live by is “treat others as you would like to be treated.” She explained, “I try to approach every aspect of my job from the standpoint of how would I want my child to be treated? How would I want someone to help my child? And if I were in their shoes, what would my expectation be? I feel blessed to have been placed in a profession where it is possible to turn struggles into triumphs and watch young children grow and develop into adulthood.”

 Outside the realm of education, Hanagan manages to squeeze in time for traveling and spending time with her family; however, she admitted her passion for her work is such that it can also be classified as her hobby. “I am in the process of trying to rediscover my hobbies and interests since my husband and I have become ‘empty nesters!’ I suppose I am one of those people that my career choice is such a passion of mine that my job is also my hobby. I am continually reading, dreaming and scheming about ways to provide better services for our students and how to support our teachers and therapists who are providing the services.”


A True Champion

When the Artesia Bulldogs plot their lineup for the upcoming year, there’s one position they know is not going to change. That’s because there is a 100% chance that local Bulldog superfan Ryder Champion will be back, helping provide water to the athletes battling for the Bulldogs.

“Ryder has been one of the most enjoyable young men that has worked with us, because he is very dependable and very loyal,” declared Artesia High School Athletic Director Cooper Henderson. “I’d also have to rate him among the top of Bulldog fans.”

Ryder, who has Down Syndrome, has supported the Bulldogs by working as their water boy since he was nine years old. His brother, J.D., was a sophomore advancing his way through the Artesia sports circuit as a team standout when Ryder was first recruited to help the program.

“My brother was playing football, and they asked me if I wanted to do it, to help give water out to the guys and take care of them,” recalled Ryder, moments before getting back to work at an Artesia basketball game. “I said, ‘Yes.’”

“Ryder always loved being with people, and he was really into sports,” remembered J.D., who now lives in Lubbock with his family. “We thought this would be a good way for him to be involved, and it ended up being a lifetime.”

Since then, Ryder, now 34, has helped refresh the local team at thousands of football, basketball and baseball games. He is also a huge fan of the Lady Bulldogs and attends as many games as he is able.

Ryder’s role as water boy changed a little bit after he finished high school in 1995. He no longer assists with practices, but he has continued to work the water cooler at nearly every game for the past 25 years. He positions himself on one end of the Bulldog bench and makes sure each new crop of thirsty athletes are being provided for. 

“They keep asking me if I want to keep doing it, and I said, ‘Yes, sir!’” he proclaimed. “I plan on doing this for the rest of my life!”

When he isn’t assisting at Bulldog games, Ryder is active through the Aspire Developmental Services program, which provides community outings Monday through Friday.

The agency now has an office at 1211 W. Main Street in Artesia. The organization’s mission statement is to “support and assist individuals challenged with developmental disabilities in a manner that is dignified, respectful and compassionate.” Ryder said he enjoys the trips to McDonald’s and Walmart.

Ryder Champion, middle, poses with family members from left, J.D. Champion, Amy Champion, Janis Champion and Richard Champion. On weekends, Ryder enjoys visiting his parents and watching television, and he is particularly a fan of professional wrestling. He recently attended a wrestling event in Hobbs and was awed by the fact that the participants towered over him. Facebook reveals him to also be an avid Denver Broncos fan.

Ryder’s parents, local business owners Richard and Janis Champion, added that they are very appreciative of all the positive attention he receives every year, including a special honor during the Bulldogs’ seasonal athletics banquets.

“The community is very supportive of him,” affirmed Richard. “Everybody in town knows him and talks to him.”

Janis noted that her son takes his job very seriously. Woe to the Artesia athlete who attempts to bypass Ryder’s policies.

“He’s very particular about how he does it,” she remarked.

Henderson, Artesia’s longtime head football coach, stressed that being a water boy is something to be proud of. “For me, it’s kind of a serving position. It’s a sense of helping others,” he mused.

Ryder, pictured here at a recent Bulldog basketball game, has devoted his time to Artesia High School athletics for the past 25 years.While Ryder takes his duties extremely seriously, J.D. said the relationships he has developed over the years are the most important part of the service. “He saw the Bulldogs as his own,” he observed. “It’s been very positive for him, but I think he has been just as positive for other people.”

J.D. has coached and taught over the years and emphasized that his family very much appreciates the community for being such a good friend to Ryder. “He always had someone giving him a ride home if he didn’t have a ride or buying him dinner. It’s multi-generational. He has worked with kids who were my age and now a lot of their kids. I think he’s been a part of 15 or 16 state championships now.”

Even in a City of Champions, Ryder Champion stands out.


Joining the County Commissioners During Lea’s Centennial Year

Being a lifelong Lea County resident with deep roots in both the oilfield and the ranching industry, I believe I have a unique perspective on Lea County.

After serving on the Lea County Fair board for eight years, I was approached to run for the District 1 County Commissioner position. After careful consideration I declared my intention to run for the position in November, 2015.

Lea County is the jewel of New Mexico, and being in a leadership role is truly an honor. From a dusty little ranching county into a true metropolis of ranching, farming and energy independence, it is a testament to the fortitude of our founders.

I hope and pray that I may be able to help the county grow and prosper during my time serving the citizens of Lea County. Too often in recent history politicians have forgotten who they work for, locally and nationally. It is my intention to actually serve the citizens of Lea County. As I stated during my campaign, my cell number is 575-441-6031; call me anytime with your concerns, and together we will make Lea County great for all residents.

All residents of this great county should be concerned about our water situation, because without water there will not be a 200-year or even a 150-year celebration of Lea County.

The founders of Lea County knew this, and I believe if they saw what was being done to preserve this commodity they would be proud. I hope we will be able to come together as we always have for the benefit of our chosen home, the Staked Plains.

Regardless of whether your place on the timetable is 1917 or 2017, we can all agree that Lea County is a gem in the desert.


Teacher Feature: Ruben Olguin

This edition of Focus is all about art. Anyone interested in updating his or her techniques may want to contact New Mexico State University-Carlsbad (UNMC) instructor Ruben Olguin. 

FOCUS: How did you wind up joining New Mexico State University-Carlsbad?

OLGUIN: I was an adjunct professor at UNM in Experimental Art and Technology and was looking to embed in a smaller community. I applied to several colleges and had some interviews, but I wanted to stay close to home and in the Southwest. I got a second interview (with UNM), and when I toured Carlsbad, I knew this was a place where I could raise my family and become a part of the community.

FOCUS: Tell us a little bit about your professional background.

OLGUIN: I have a B.A. in media art and an M.F.A. in electronic art. I show in art galleries as well as immersive film festivals. I worked in television production for 5+ years at KOAT-7, doing just about everything behind the scenes from motion graphics to live audio and camera operation, and about 8 years as a videographer.

FOCUS: Tell us a little bit about you.

OLGUIN: I am married with two kids. My family is from northern New Mexico, but I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, so Carlsbad feels like the best of both worlds.

FOCUS: What are your hobbies and interests?

OLGUIN: I am a life-long artist and tech geek. I spend my nights reading Art Forum, Digital Photography Review, and Popular Science, but I have a passion for teaching and community outreach. I do a lot of K-12 and STEM-Arts (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Arts) workshops around themes of nature and technology. I work on a project called Seedbroadcast, which travels the Southwest spreading seed stories.

FOCUS: What classes will you be teaching this spring?

OLGUIN: I have a mix of art and tech, Drawing I, 2D Design, Computer Illustration, Image Processing and Digital Video Production.

FOCUS: What brought you into the digital arts field to begin with?

OLGUIN: My first computer was in fourth grade, a Hewlett-Packard with a whopping 366Mhz processor, but it had Windows Paint. The first thing I did with that computer was draw a Spawn comic, from the cover of the third issue, pixel by pixel, which must have taken me over 50 hours.

FOCUS: What changes have you seen in this field over the past ten years?

OLGUIN: My personal work focuses on video for immersive environments. The explosion of private sector competition in the virtual reality (VR) segment has rapidly increased the development cycles and lowered the costs of 360 film making, which has historically been left to tech geeks like me or government and research institutions.

FOCUS: What changes do you think will happen in the future to this field?

OLGUIN: VR is great, but there is no substitute for physical interaction and out-of-glasses experiences. I think with new, smaller, brighter LED technology, we will see every wall covered with a LED film which turns every surface into a screen. We will build rooms of video or interactive living/working/shopping spaces.

FOCUS: Why is learning about the digital arts important?

OLGUIN: I think it’s important for art to reflect our experiences as human beings. Technology is everywhere, and decisions digital artists make are in everyone's face every time they unlock their phone or purchase a product. Being a digital artist is part creative, part entrepreneurial, and part technical, and all three of those can be taught and implemented anywhere.


Opposites Attract

Every morning when John Michael Brady heads out the door for work, his wife bids him farewell with a kiss and a reminder: “I love you. Have a good day and make good choices.” For a self-admitted rebel who hates being told what to do, his warm acceptance of her daily reminders is an indication that perhaps opposites really do attract.

 According to a report in Psychology Today, humans are drawn to others out of needs and desires that are unfulfilled in our lives, such as a desire to experience greater connection, security, love, support and comfort. On the other hand some of those unfulfilled longings have to do with their polar opposites, such as adventure, freedom, risk, challenge and intensity. If you think about it, a fulfilling relationship is one in which we feel secure, safe, loved and comfortable, but we need to be able to balance those feelings with excitement, passion, a degree of risk and even some separation. If not, psychologists say (and many couples agree) that security becomes boredom, dependability becomes indifference, intimacy becomes claustrophobia and comfort becomes stagnation. The Bradys view this paradox not as a problem but as something to celebrate.

The differences between John Michael and Danielle surfaced immediately upon meeting. Everything from politics to religion separated the two. “When we first started dating he said it was a deal breaker because I was Catholic,” Danielle shared. “That was the first obstacle we had to overcome.” For John Michael, his Church of Christ roots made it seemingly impossible to see a future with someone of such a different religious affiliation from his. Eventually they worked through their religious differences, but that would prove to be only the tip of the iceberg.

Danielle grew up as the only child of a single mother, Hilda Moreno. They lived with Moreno’s parents on a farm south of town; her mom worked two jobs to provide for them and her grandparents, who were helping raise her. She felt and knew love—deep love—and she formed a strong bond with her mother that today remains unshakable. Anyone who knows Danielle knows about their close-knit relationship.

John Michael, on the other hand, was the eldest of four children. Toys, food, drinks—anything that the four children wanted or needed—became a source of contention. “I guess that’s why I’m so particular about things like my food and drinks. I don’t like my things being touched because they’re mine. I grew up having to fight for those things with my siblings!” He admitted he’s not very close to most of his immediate family, but he understands and even appreciates that Danielle’s situation is different. “Her relationship with her mom was never an issue with me at all,” he stressed. “She was very up front about it from the beginning.”

“Well, that’s what makes me who I am, really,” Danielle interjected. “My mom is the reason I think and believe the way I do.”

John Michael doesn’t just support his wife’s relationship with her mother, though; he also gets it. “I’m really close to her as well. In fact, I call her ‘Mom,’” he chuckled.

As a child, Danielle learned love and acceptance by watching the way her mother lived her life. “Growing up, my mom accepted everyone, and she has always had all different kinds of people in her life, gay people and such,” she revealed. “I guess that’s why I tend to have more liberal viewpoints about a lot of things.”

John Michael, on the other hand, leans more toward the conservative side of the spectrum. “I am either hot or cold; it’s black or white. No gray areas,” he explained.

“I do see gray areas,” Danielle countered. “I can dispute a hundred different things a hundred different ways.”

Politically speaking the Bradys tend to differ in their viewpoints, but somehow they have managed to find a way to respect one another and abide in love rather than focusing on their differences in opinion. She noted, “We don’t talk politics a lot, but we know where one another stands.”

Their differences even extend to a more superficial level. He has many tattoos, she has none. He loves guns and hunting, she had never even held one until a few years ago and loves animals too much to shoot one. He is a free-spirited, go with the flow artist; she is structured and likes to have a plan in place. He loves the outdoors, she prefers a spa. But despite their differences, the key to their marriage is that they do not take themselves too seriously, and they have learned how to pick their battles wisely.

Their personalities have a way of balancing things out. In fact, as their relationship matured, they realized they had more in common than they had even realized. Both of them had participated in choir and show choir in high school (though several years apart), and both were on the swim team. They are equally competitive and enjoy playing games together, anything that pits them in competition. He needs personal time to create art, and she needs personal time to contribute to charity. They are each mindful and respectful of the need for time apart from one another.

 “He is supportive of me doing the things I love,” Danielle acknowledged. “He has always supported any of my charity work, work I do for my church...My mom and I do a 12 Days of Christmas thing every year, I have a girl that I do things for that’s like a little sister to me—things like that. Things that take time and money away from him, he still supports me.” In return, she nurtures him artistically and is his biggest cheerleader, fan and advocate. “She has always encouraged me with my art. She’s very support of it. Always has been,” he said.

The experts at Psychology Today say the process of finding balance in a marriage involving opposites is simple yet not necessarily easy. They say when your operating system has been wired from birth (or perhaps even before) to have certain tendencies and inclinations, influencing the system is possible, but it does take a willingness on the part of both people to risk moving into their partner’s world and accommodating their needs and values without compromising their own.

Perhaps that’s easier said than done, but the Bradys seem to have found a way to accomplish it.


In Memory of Danielle Moreno Brady

 February 1, 1982 - March 20, 2017

In February, I sat down with John Michael and Danielle Brady in what turned out to be a lengthy, insightful, heartwarming interview. We talked about their personal lives, their families and friends, occupations and even hobbies. Our conversation led us all over the place, often bouncing around from one topic to another. I incorporated some of the things we discussed in the story I wrote, but a lot of it was just friendly banter between a lovely couple and a writer who had known both of the Bradys for quite some time.

I had no way of knowing our conversation that February night would be my last one with Danielle—in person anyway. When I received news of her passing, my heart sank.

How can this be?

I was just texting her; she just dropped off a flash drive with photos she wanted to use in the story. I was at my daughter’s softball practice and she was on her way to belly dancing, so we arranged for her to leave the flash drive in my mailbox. I didn’t even get to see her, hug her neck and thank her for dropping it off…

It was all so sudden. She was gone just like that.

Her passing came after I had written the story and the graphic artist had put it in the magazine but before we had finished our final proofs and sent it to the printer. We had a slight delay in printing due to unforeseen circumstances, and I can’t help but think God knew I would want to pay tribute to Danielle in the very issue in which she and her husband shared their story with the world (or our readers anyway!).

So here it is. Here is my tribute to Danielle Moreno Brady, an intelligent woman with a servant’s heart and a deep love for others. If you were a friend, you were a friend and she’d do anything for you. Her friends knew it and they loved that about her. She adored her husband and lit up when she would talk about his artwork and the seamless way in which he incorporated himself into her family after the two of them married. She accepted the fact that he did not share all of her political and philosophical views, and she loved him enough to not try to change him. It was a quality she inherited from her mother, whom she credits with shaping her into the woman she became. Their mother/daughter bond was unshakable. It was strong and beautiful and it radiated love. In our community Danielle was known for her acting in local plays, the volunteer hours she put in with various organizations, and for working hard to make sure her employer, the Artesia Fire Department, was well-represented and received their due credit. She even contributed to Focus on Artesia as a freelance writer.

Dealing with loss is never easy. Our human minds want to “make sense of things,” but more often than not, it’s simply impossible. Such is the case with the death of Danielle Brady. It doesn’t make any sense to us right now, and might not ever, but the fact remains that her life on earth greatly impacted countless others. I, for one, am grateful to have met Danielle many years ago and had the opportunity to get to know her better in the last couple of years. I will miss her contributions to our publication, but more importantly, I will miss her contributions to our world. It was a better place because of her.


Teacher Feature: T.J. Parks

Last February, T.J. Parks, superintendent of Hobbs Municipal Schools, was honored as the New Mexico Superintendent of the Year. That makes for a very good reason to select Parks as the subject of the first “Teacher Feature” for Focus on Lea County.

A 31-year resident of Lea County, Parks began his teaching career at Tatum Municipal Schools in 1982. He had a five-year stint in Texas but spent a grand total of 21 years in Tatum.

Parks taught seventh and eighth grade science and coached in Tatum for five years before moving to Friona, Texas, where he taught biology and coached varsity basketball for two years. He accepted a middle school assistant principal position in Dimmitt, Texas, in 1988. He then returned to Tatum as a principal, later becoming the superintendent.

In 2007, Hobbs had an opening for director of operations, so he applied for the spot. “(Then-superintendent) Cliff Burch and I have been friends for 25-plus years,” he reflected. “Once my children graduated, I felt I was ready for another challenge.”

He became superintendent of Hobbs Municipal Schools in 2010. Naturally, he praised the district’s staff and students. “The staff makes Hobbs Municipal Schools special!” he shared. “They are a very caring, hard working group of professionals that truly care about every child. Our students are amazing. They are creative, smart, and fun to be around. The pride of being an Eagle is visible in all we do.”

He added that the school district emphasizes culture, data, instruction, and leadership.

This “Hobbs Way” drives 90-day plans. A 21st Century Grant, meanwhile, has enabled the school district to provide quality after school programs for elementary and middle school students.

Teaching is the most difficult job he has ever held. “It is not only taxing because of the strain of being on your feet all day, but mentally you are exhausted trying to motivate and teach students,” he observed. “Today’s accountability and testing add another component I did not have to deal with during my classroom days. I have all the respect in the world for teachers.”

Working as an administrator has taught Parks to look at problems more systematically, because one decision can have a ripple effect for many people. “I enjoy collaborating with colleagues and trying to solve problems through open and honest conversations,” he noted. “If we stop and listen to the teachers (and students), we can make tremendous academic gains as well as avoid some pitfalls.”

He also provides many of the Twitter feeds for Hobbs schools. He enjoys writing monthly articles for the newspaper and is always pleasantly surprised by the comments he receives on his articles.

When hiring teachers, Parks looks for men and women who care about students and try to create meaningful relationships. Good administrators are not building managers, they are instructional leaders.

Parks declared that he wants Hobbs Municipal Schools to be the gold standard for education. He would like to partner with the community of Hobbs to make reading a priority for children and adults. He would also like to see a school-based Hobbs Municipal Schools health clinic where students and staff members can receive care.

“Immediate health care would reduce absenteeism and improve quality of life,” he maintained. “A vital component of any school-based health clinic is the behavioral component. We have numerous students who need social emotional assistance.”

Finally, education should be an on-demand resource, meaning that the availability of technology should provide students access to their education 24/7 rather than just when school is in session.

Technology has certainly changed education quite a bit over the past 20 years. Parks recalled his first computer, an Apple IIe with no hard drive. “We used 5½-inch floppy discs,” he remembered. “We were constantly inserting and removing the discs to perform simple functions. During the early days of the internet, we connected using a modem, which sounded like an alarm going off.”

“Thomas Friedman says technology doubles every year, and he sees no end in sight,” Parks pronounced, noting that today’s cell phones have 1,000 times the capacity of those old computers.

“I don’t think technology will ever replace a teacher, but we must embrace and allow students and teachers flexibility to use resources to enhance the experience,” he insisted. “I believe the sharing of resources on the internet will continue to expand. The internet has not only created a ‘flat world’ but also a ‘connected world.’”

Parks revealed he has been married to his best friend, Teresa Turner Parks, for 35 years. She is a vocational teacher in Tatum.

“We have two wonderful children,” he continued. “Wade and his wife, Gwen, live in Houston, where Wade is a civil engineer for KIT specializing in wastewater management. Gwen is a child life specialist. Amanda Bellows and her husband, Trevor, live here in Hobbs. Amanda is a speech language pathologist for Hobbs schools and Trevor is a firefighter for the City of Lovington.”

Parks enjoys team sports and running, and he most recently began cycling with the Southeast New Mexico Cycling Club. The group rides 40-60 miles on Saturdays and 20-25 miles on Sundays. He also works out at a local gym several times each week. “I am a firm believer that exercise can relieve negative stress,” he concluded.

Being a superintendent may be a stressful job at times, but T.J. Parks has the right crew and the right students to make it very worthwhile.


Lucy's Opens at Cascades

The third time is the charm for restaurateur Lucy Yanez, but to be fair, the first and second times were equally huge successes. 

A couple of years ago, Yanez moved her restaurant from its traditional location to a larger venue across the street, but she also kept the previous location open. Lucy’s Mexicali Restaurant is now open at 710 S. Canal, while Lucy’s Cantina remains open across the street. 

Then, last November, she opened Lucy’s Mexican Grill at the Cascades, an upscale dining spot located at 400-2 Cascades Avenue. Running three different establishments in one town is a gutsy endeavor. “We keep our hands full,” she admitted, but she has brought in some backup she knows she can trust.

“Here, we’re doing upscale custom steaks, gourmet burgers and street tacos,” explained Lucy’s son, Michael Yanez, who runs the Cascades restaurant as well as Lucy’s Mexicali Restaurant in Ruidoso. “We have a few pasta dishes, and once we start doing lunches we’ll add sandwiches.”

The Grill, currently open from 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (the lounge is open until midnight on weekends)shares the Cascades building with a gym, several offices and, eventually, a coffee house. 

Lucy and Michael put in a restaurant, a bar area and a large patio overlooking the Cascades water feature. It’s a big step forward in the Carlsbad Department of Development’s marketing of the Cascades. 

“I feel like we’re anchoring this thing, and if we do well, I think it will attract even more businesses,” Michael shared about the Cascades development. 

He described the fare as a “Mexican fusion,” a mixture of Mexican and New Mexican foods. “We have two great chefs in the back who can incorporate some authentic dishes that you’d normally have to go out of the state or even the country to have,” he added.

It’s a very different menu than the Lucy’s down the road (just “five minutes away,” Michael quipped), with one exception: the popular hit Adam’s Queso is served at every location.

Michael is also proud of the full bar at the Cascades location, which includes 16 beers on tap, a full wine list and an assortment of craft cocktails. 

He shared that his family saw some competitors opening around town and opened the Cascades location because they wanted to try something new. “We want a great place where you can bring your date. We keep our prices reasonable, but it’s a little upper level dining.”

Adding to the ambiance, pianist Anthony Torres sets up shop from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. “He’s the best piano player in Texas,” Lucy bragged.

Michael began working with his mother in high school. He returned to the business after college and spent a decade running the restaurant in Ruidoso.

Both members of the Yanez family say they are looking forward to seeing some of Carlsbad’s industries get back to booming. “It’s pretty exciting when I see groups of oilfield guys coming in,” Lucy observed. “That means something big is going to happen.”

And if you are wondering, Lucy says her favorite item at her newest Carlsbad restaurant is the steak fillet.

“It just melts in your mouth,” she concluded. “Everybody says we need a good steak in town, and I think they found one.”

Down the road at the original location, Lucy’s Cantina is open from 6-10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and often features entertainment acts. The Cantina serves bar food and has a full liquor license. Lucy’s Mexicali Restaurant maintains a beer and wine license. The family has also recently opened a restaurant in Lovington. 

For more information about Lucy’s Mexican Grill at the Cascades, please call (575) 887-0222 or visit their Facebook .