Stone Child College Creating the Next Generation of Community Leaders

BOX ELDER, Mont. – Rising senior Jason Rosette (Chippewa-Cree), has climbed through the ranks at Stone Child College, a tribal college on the Rocky Boy Reservation, from local school district maintenance professional, to paraprofessional and community mentor, thanks to the college’s investment in his and other students’ educational journeys.

Stone Child College (SCC) recently rolled out Vision 2025, its new “future-focused, student success-centric strategic plan,” which was developed in partnership with students, faculty, staff, and friends of the college, which includes helping students like Jason to “embrace their dreams and reach for the stars.”

Jason calls himself a “non-traditional” student at SCC, but he fits the profile of many students attending a tribal college. According to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), around 33% of TCU students are adults with families, who are looking to return to or begin school after life experiences beyond high school. It’s not Jason’s student profile that makes him a rising senior at SCC, it’s his perseverance to be in the position to pursue a degree at all.

Jason, 46, spent most of his life in Arizona, far away from his tribal culture and community. Although living in Arizona gave him some connection to his Mexican roots, he only became familiar with Indigenous people through living among people from local tribal nations such as the Navajo and Apache. He says observing these tight-knit communities made him long to become connected with his cultural identity.

Being far from his culture and not knowing himself led Jason down a path where he experienced many challenges, including finding himself without a home. Then, shortly after high school that Jason became a father. He abandoned his education goals to enter the workforce to support his new family. But upon doing so, Jason said he quickly learned a high school diploma was not going to give him the opportunities he needed, and he knew something had to change.

After learning his mother would be returning to school, Jason relocated to Rocky Boy, Montana to follow her on a journey toward higher education. But first, before enrolling in classes, Jason worked at Box Elder Schools, serving in maintenance and then in various kitchen roles. During this time, Jason began learning about the many programs opportunities SCC offered to Native students and he took advantage of the free tuition for Native students, while maintaining his employment, and jumped at the chance to learn his Cree language and tribal history as part of the curriculum.

Jason says he knew he was on the right path after taking his first few courses. “I decided to give my associate’s program everything I had. I felt like my job was to lead by example.” And that he did.

Jason completed his associate degree in business management, was named student of the year, and participated in the Knowledge Bowl, hosted by AIHEC. Jason began connecting to his tribal culture, language, and spirituality, and began attending ceremonial events with his family.

“Before, I felt lost, and I didn’t know who I was. Connecting to my culture and my language gave me a bigger purpose,” he said.

After earning his degree, Jason immediately entered the workforce at a tribal business. He worked his way up from an entry level associate at the call center to a management position. But these career highs were met with some personal lows. Despite his victories, Jason said he was experiencing a bout with alcoholism.

“I was a high functioning alcoholic,” Jason recalled. “I was at work on time every day and could perform all my job duties but outside of work, I was using alcohol to cope with the stresses of life.” Jason was again, at a pivot point in his life and sought out opportunities for change. He dedicated his life to God, which led him to quit drinking and contemplate the next steps in his educational journey.

After taking personal inventory of what he had experienced, Jason knew his next step including a focus on preventing these cycles within younger generations. Jason recalled feeding children during the pandemic when working in the kitchen at Box Elder Schools. “Our community has a 90% unemployment rate, and I knew that feeding these young people was the most important thing I could do to serve at the time,” he said. “I felt completely overwhelmed at how a place focused on learning can create such a positive impact for people. I was helping nourish the kids in my community with food, but I knew I could be doing more to serve them.”

To get started on his new career path, he learned about a paraprofessional job at Box Elder Schools and advocated to take on the role himself.

It was a perfect fit. The more he worked with young people, Jason said the more strongly he felt the call to continue his education. He sought out guidance from a school superintendent, Jeremy MacDonald, who encouraged him to continue his path as well as advised that Box Elder School would work with him to make this dream happen.

Jason began taking classes at SCC to earn a bachelor’s degree in education and he’s on track to graduate in 2024.

“I think about my past and all I’ve been through. My goal is to stand up for our youth,” Jason said. “I believe Native people are facing systematic issues and instead of just talking about these things, I am challenging myself to actively work on making the changes.”

Along with his desire to serve young people in his career as a teacher, Jason is also choosing to serve tribal youth by coaching sports teams on his reservation. He actively works with K-6 grade students who play baseball and basketball with The Stone Child Extension Services-sponsored youth teams. Jason believes sports can help build confidence, encourages teamwork, and helps develop positive attitudes.

Jason proudly says he has been sober for five years and is in the last year of his bachelor’s degree program, getting ready to embark on student teaching. He sums up his life experience with a favorite quote: “They tried to bury me, but they didn’t know I was a seed.” Although he’s unsure of the quote’s author, Jason is surely writing his own story.

Cory Sangrey-Billy, President of Stone Child Community College, said Jason’s story is the perfect example of why she and her staff worked so hard to develop Vision 2025—to build a stronger community by building its future leaders.

“Stone Child believes that everyone who walks through our doors has potential and purpose. Jason showed us his commitment and interest in developing his skills through education and we are investing in a path for him. His journey is a testament to what we can do when we look beyond circumstances and into the future.”

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