Teacher discovers her discarded trash


When Stewart Major drove the west mesa above Belen, he wasn’t surprised to see trash covering the mesa along with his cattle.

What did surprise him was the kind of trash it was — paperwork and bills, professional evaluations complete with Social Security numbers.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Looking at teaching materials and personal paperwork spread across part of the west mesa, Tammy Medina begins cleaning up a mess someone else made.

“I thought it was kind of strange. There was a lot of what looked like school supplies, too,” Major said.

A second-generation rancher in Valencia County, the sun-beaten man has seen his fair share of illegal dumping on his family’s land.

The Major cattle operation ranges over several sections of land, making it nearly impossible to be everywhere on any kind of regular basis.

“We had a security guard out here who patrolled, but eventually he retired,” he said.

Without the semi-regular presence, the dumping got worse and so did the damage to property and cattle.

His nephew lost three steers in their prime a few years ago — shot and left to rot in the New Mexico sun. The Majors put up a reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person or people who killed the animals, but all they got back was silence.

So when he came across trash blowing across his property last month, Major wasn’t surprised, but he was curious as to where it came from and how it ended up out there.

“Some of this stuff, it looks important,” he said. “Medical bills, one even has a Social Security number on it.”

Since there was a local address on some of the pieces of mail, Major contacted the sheriff’s department. He said a deputy visited the address, but the person no longer lived there.

Not sure what to do next, Major contacted the Valencia County News-Bulletin.

The paperwork blowing across the mesa showed an address in Las Maravillas, more that 15 miles away on the east side of Valencia County.

The employee evaluation with the Social Security number belonged to a teacher at Desert View Elementary, very near the subdivision.

A call to the school put the newspaper in touch with kindergarten teacher Tammy Medina. As the situation was explained, and the items on the mesa described, Medina used the words “horrified,” “embarrassed” and “shocked.”

You see, as far as she knew all her teaching materials were safely stored at a relative’s house.

When the school year was done last June, Medina was getting ready to take time off to undergo surgery, so her classroom materials were packed up by her fellow teachers and put into storage.

After recovering from the surgery, she and her husband sold their house in Las Maravillas, and she was out of the state until January, when she returned to Los Lunas Schools to finish out the year for a fellow teacher who is retiring.

“Her classroom was already set up, so I didn’t need my things,” Medina said. “I picked up a few things in January and everything was there. I thought it was all still there; it should be there and not here.”

She said that while looking across the acre of wind-swept mesa that was now the home to her personal paperwork and teaching materials.

As Medina looked through the rain-damaged materials, she said several of her more valuable teaching materials weren’t there, such as CDs and books, including a set of story books students could write and draw their own stories in which Medina paid $130 each.

“This is horrible. I’m so embarrassed,” she said, as she and her son, Anthony, began picking up the trash.

As she stuffed binders and coloring pages into trash bags, Medina said she needed to have a serious talk with the relative she had counted on to store her things.

“I just … I can’t believe this. Tell Mr. Major I am so sorry. We’ll get this cleaned up,” she said, gazing across the mesa. “I don’t know what happened.”

-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.