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Jaime Escalante, teacher who inspired movie, dies

LOS ANGELES - Jaime Escalante, the math teacher who transformed a tough East Los Angeles high school and inspired the movie "Stand and Deliver," died Tuesday. He was 79.

Escalante died at his son's home near Sacramento, after battling bladder cancer for several years, family friend Keith Miller said.

An immigrant from Bolivia, he transformed Garfield High School by motivating struggling students to excel at advanced math and science. The school had more advanced placement calculus students than all but four other public high schools in the country.

Edward James Olmos played Escalante in the 1988 film based on his story.

"Jaime exposed one of the most dangerous myths of our time - that inner city students can't be expected to perform at the highest levels," Olmos said. "Because of him, that destructive idea has been shattered forever." Escalante was a teacher in La Paz before he emigrated to the United States. He had to study English at night for years to get his California teaching credentials and return to the classroom.

At first he was discouraged by Garfield's "culture of low expectations, gang activity and administrative apathy," Miller said.

Gradually, he overhauled the school's math curriculum and enabled students who were previously considered unteachable to master advanced placement calculus.

He used his big personality to goad his working-class Mexican-American students to succeed, said Elsa Bolado, 45, one of his former pupils.

Bolado, now an elementary schoolteacher and trainer, remembers Escalante's charisma - and the way he built her confidence with long hours of solving problems and how he inspired her career choice with his unorthodox approach to learning.

"Teaching is an art form. There's a lot of practitioners and very few artists. He was a master artist," she said.

Bolado took the AP calculus test in 1982, the year that testing officials made Garfield students retake it because they were suspicious that so many of Escalante's students had passed. She said 14 students were asked to take the test again months later and all 12 who did passed.

Escalante left Garfield in 1991, taught at schools in Sacramento and retired to Bolivia in 2001.

He is survived by his wife, two sons, and six grandchildren.

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