Acclaimed teacher Jaime Escalante passed away yesterday at the age of 79, succumbing to bladder cancer after years of fighting the disease. The educational superstar was determined to see his students succeed and thought of ingenious ways to teach math to his wayward charges, many of whom had already been written off by the system.
In 1982, Escalante's students took the AP exam and passed, but the testing service invalidated their scores because they thought the teens cheated. Escalante encouraged his charges to take the test again, in spite of the blatant racism of the testing service, and once again, they all passed. The incident inspired the 1988 film Stand and Deliver, which starred Edward James Olmos as Escalante. Olmos received an Oscar nomination for the role. Earlier this year, the actor encouraged fundraising efforts to support Escalante's family while they struggled to pay for the medical treatment he needed while he fought his battle against cancer.
Escalante was born in Bolivia and moved to California in 1963. He followed in his parents footsteps and began teaching at Garfield High School in East L.A. in 1973. "I had many opportunities in this country, but the best I found in East L.A.," he said in one of his last interviews. "I am proudest of my brilliant students."
Jaime Escalante died at his son's home in Rosefield, CA and is survived by his wife, sons and six grandchildren.