Nightly News   |  March 31, 2010

Remembering the legacy of Jaime Escalante

Jaime Escalante, an immigrant from Bolivia, took Latino students from a low-income, gang-infested area of East Los Angeles and turned them into math whizzes. He gained national attention after a testing company accused them of cheating. NBC's George Lewis reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

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>>> 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,