Jaime Escalante: Math Teacher Who Inspired the Movie Stand and Deliver is Dead

Suzanne Murray
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jaime escalante
Flickr photo by wordcat57
Mural of Jaime Esclante, right
(Edward James Olmos, left)
If you've ever seen the movie Stand and Deliver, then you know who Jaime Escalante is. The Bolivian immigrant cum math teacher turned a bunch of tough East Los Angeles high school students into calculus whizzes. (Edward James Olmos played Escalante in the film.)

When 18 of his students aced the national advanced placement (AP) calculus test (known for its incredible difficulty) in 1982, the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey, suspected they had cheated and demanded that 14 of them be retested. The results? Watch the movie.

Escalante couldn't speak English when he first came to the U.S. in 1964, so although he had eleven years of teaching experience, he couldn't get a job. He worked as a busboy, cook, and technician, won a scholarship and took some courses. Ten years later, he had earned his teaching credentials in this country.

He headed to Garfield High School in Los Angeles, a place where gang members roamed the halls and no student had passed the AP calculus test for years. He worked his magic, and by 1979, four of his students passed the test; eight passed in 1980; and 14 passed in 1981. His students nicknamed him Kemo (as in Kemo Sabe) after the Lone Ranger.

Escalante was a strict, devoted teacher. He made a difference not just on those kids' math scores, but in their lives and their community.

Escalante was undergoing cancer treatment in Reno, Nevada, when he died at the age of 79.

In an interview last month with the Los Angeles Times, he shared some of his favorite aphorisms, including this one:

"Believe, believe. Believe in your kids. They will surprise you."

What teacher made a difference in your life?

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