A little over 100 years ago, a Native mother helped her child pack a bag while a priest and police officer stood in the doorframe, waiting to take the child by bus then train to a boarding school far away. Jayson Stanley (English, ‘08) says that child was his great-grandfather, who, like many Native children at that time, didn’t know where they were going. So, he jumped from the train and walked back home. That leap of faith into the Arizona desert continues to inspire Stanley to chase his dreams of a better future for his own children, and his people.
Since they were little, Stanley, his brother, and four sisters, all San Carlos Apache tribal members, listened to their father tell this story with pride. While he knew that the boarding schools weren’t the solution, Stanley’s father, who never went to school, held a firm belief in the power of education, knowing that it held answers for his children and his children’s children. Stanley’s father would say, “Great-grandpa always told us that ‘moms and dads aren’t going to be around for a lifetime. Let education be your mom and dad.’”
Stanley’s mother taught for 25 years in the San Carlos Unified School District, inspiring three of his sisters to become teachers. Stanley worked in construction and law enforcement, where his sergeant always commented on how Stanley’s detailed officer reports were “better than anybody else’s.” Stanley credits this aptitude for writing to his love of poetry.
But the job brought on a lot of stress for Stanley, so his mother and sisters encouraged him to apply to college. Knowing he needed a change, he remembered a friend telling him about ‘‘the campus in the sky.” He moved to Durango, Colorado in 2004 to enroll at Fort Lewis College.
Campus in the sky
Stanley declared a major in English and a minor in Criminology. While studying full-time, he worked in Housing, played a year of Skyhawks football as an offensive lineman, participated in the Native American Honor Society, and made lifelong friends. He also met his future wife, Lizatina Tsosie (Anthropology, ‘07).
One of his professors, Delilah Orr, was “extra tough” on him, “kicking back papers with chicken scratches in red ink,” he says. Nervous about her feedback, he studied hard for his last final exam with her. When he got called to her office, Stanley thought he was in trouble.
“She put my exam in front of me and I saw it was almost a perfect score: 99%,” he says. “She was telling all the other professors that no one has ever scored that high on her final. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t give me that one point to make it a perfect 100, but she was Native American, too, so I think that’s why she was tougher on me.”
Stanley graduated in 2008, married Tsosie that July, and moved back to Bylas, Arizona. The newlyweds were offered teaching jobs with the Fort Thomas Unified School District to help start an alternative high school. Three years later, Stanley became school principal and, in 2017, earned his master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University. His leadership extends beyond administrative duties and includes hosting field trips to FLC to introduce students to “the campus in the sky” and the opportunities that college provides. He also coaches youth football and baseball, excited to one day coach his own two sons.
Since 2018, Stanley has served on the Board of Regents for San Carlos Apache College, which strives toward Nnee bi’at’e’ihii nłdzilgo ádanłzih, “Upholding the power of Apache wisdom and knowledge.”
“I’m doing this for my kids, and their kids, so we can have higher education right here on the reservation and grow our own type of mentality,” says Stanley. “We aren’t just trying to change the kids and push education. We’re trying to change the norms of our community.”