The Passing of Jaime Escalante: Teacher Extraordinaire

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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)

Jaime Escalante taught math at Garfield High School in one of East Los Angeles’s poorest neighborhoods. He inspired his street-hardened students to master advanced calculus — kids who otherwise might not have learned basic math. His 20 years of dedication to teaching were portrayed by actor Edward James Olmos in the 1988 movie "Stand and Deliver." The two became life-long friends.

“All they needed was desire and ganas, which is a word that really he coined,” Olmos told Larry Mantle today on AirTalk. He explained that ganas, which became Escalante’s battle cry when he taught his students, is a Spanish word that refers to a “…desire to motivate yourself. To bring yourself to a higher level.”

Olmos was with Escalante near the end. “We took him from the hospital on Monday night and took him off the life support system… we decided that we should just take him home,” said Olmos. “We got him into his house… he took his last breath, surrounded by his children, grandchildren and his wife.”

Escalante died of cancer. He was 79. He is survived by his wife, two sons, and six grandchildren.

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