Jaime Escalante, math teacher who inspired 'Stand and Deliver' film dies

Jaime Escalante is seen here teaching math at Garfield High School, in California, March 16, 1988. Escalante is the teacher on which the character in the movie "Stand and Deliver" is based. (AP Photo)
Jaime Escalante is seen here teaching math at Garfield High School, in California, March 16, 1988. Escalante is the teacher on which the character in the movie "Stand and Deliver" is based. (AP Photo) AP Photo

Jaime Escalante, the Los Angeles educator who inspired legions of East L.A. youth to excel in math and in life, died today in Sacramento. He was 79.

More than 40 years ago, Jaime Escalante found out he couldn’t teach in Los Angeles schools with the math credential he’d earned in his native Bolivia. So he worked in restaurants and factories while he earned new credentials.

The habit of never giving up – ganas, as he said in Spanish — saw him through. "As a teacher what I do is, I convey passion with the subject I teach," he said in a television interview.

The Garfield High School math teacher developed a reputation as a taskmaster who could teach calculus to young people other teachers wrote off. Hollywood saw a story. Actor Edward James Olmos immortalized Escalante in the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver.”

In one scene, Olmos as Escalante tries to motivate a class of mostly Mexican American students. "It was your ancestors, the Mayas, who first contemplated the zero, the absence of value, true story, you burros have math in your blood."

LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines said the district is mourning the loss of one of its finest educators.

A family friend says Jaime Escalante died Tuesday in Sacramento, where he was undergoing treatment for bladder cancer.

Wire services contributed to this report.

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