Video: Remembering the legacy of Jaime Escalante

  1. Closed captioning of: Remembering the legacy of Jaime Escalante

    >>> *

    >>> we close tonight with the story of a life spent making a difference. as we told you last night, jaime escalante died yesterday. he was the legendary teacher immortalized in the film " stand and deliver ." he took on the students others had given up on, poor, tough kids from eastern l.a. he taught them how to xcel and how to deliver. his story from george lewis .

    >> reporter: to watch jaime escalante at garfield high was to witness a master motivator at work. telling inner city students, you can succeed if you have the desire, in spanish, ganas.

    >> the keyword over here. and ganas means determination. discipline. hard work. we needs students with ganas.

    >> reporter: his students from a poor latino, crime-ridden neighborhood consistently scored well in the advanced placement calculus exam. but in the controversial movie " stand and deliver " test administrators couldn't believe the results and accused 18 of escalante 's kids of cheating. played by edward james almost.

    >> those scores would never have been questioned if my kids did not have spanish surnames. you know that.

    >> reporter: when his students retook the test and did better the second time around, escalante became a hero.

    >> he's not going to let you down. if you have the desire, the ganas, he'll be there 24/7 for you.

    >> reporter: in 1991 , six of his former calculus students landed summer jobs with nasa. one thomas valdez is there today working on fuelcell technology.

    >> i think escalante put that spark in me that made me want to become a science.

    >> reporter: another escalante student erica, whose parents were janitors got a ph.d. in calculus and is teaching at arizona state university .

    >> the impact on my life and on other students is like a domino effect . it's going to impact a lot of people.

    >> reporter: and there you have the true legacy of jaime escalante . a whole lot of former students who overcame the odds. george lewis , nbc news,

updated 3/31/2010 1:09:46 PM ET 2010-03-31T17:09:46

Jaime Escalante transformed a tough East Los Angeles high school by motivating struggling inner-city students to master advanced math, became one of America's most famous teachers and inspired the movie "Stand and Deliver."

He died Tuesday at age 79 after battling cancer for several years, family friend Keith Miller said.

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

Bolado, now an elementary school teacher and trainer, remembers Escalante's charisma, 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 practicioners and very few artists. He was a master artist," she said.

Shattering a ‘dangerous myth’
An immigrant from Bolivia, he overhauled Garfield High School's math curriculum and pushed his students to do their best until 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."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Escalante "shared in my belief that anything is possible in California."

"He put everything he had into becoming an inspirational teacher whose passion, commitment and belief that all students can achieve excellence set an example for us all," Schwarzenegger said. "His talent, hard work and dedication in the classroom changed the lives of countless students."

First, he studied English
Escalante was a teacher in La Paz before he emigrated to the U.S. 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 his long hours in the classroom paid off and dozens of his students passed the test year after year.

Bolado took the advanced placement calculus test in 1982, the year that testing officials made some 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.

"To this day, I still think of the example he set — the study skills, how not to give up," said Bolado, 45. "I revert back to that every time things get rough."

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

The cast of "Stand and Deliver" recently appealed for donations to help Escalante pay for his alternative cancer treatments.

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

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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