Jaime Escalante, the mathematics teacher who served as the inspiration behind 1988 film, “Stand and Deliver,” passed away Tuesday at the age of 79.
Escalante, a Bolivian immigrant, first gained media attention while teaching at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. Since the 1960s, Garfield has had a predominately Latino student body and in 1974, when Escalante began teaching, it was known as one of the most educationally disadvantaged schools. Through instituting an AP Calculus program in the late 1970s, Escalante sought to change the culture of the school and the surrounding community.
Beginning in 1978, Escalante recruited dedicated Garfield students and taught a rigorous curriculum that not only prepared them for the test, but also for their futures. In 1982, all 18 of his students passed the exam and received college credit. And even when the College Board’s Educational Testing Service accused 14 of those students of cheating, 12 decided to take the retest resulting in a passing grade once again.
As NPR reported, one of his former students said of Escalante that “he would teach anybody who wanted to learn . . . they didn’t have to be designated gifted or talented by the school.”
When reflecting on the actions of this great role model, we must remember not everyone is as fortunate as Escalante’s students.
Poverty, immigration status issues, limited English proficiency issues and barriers to parental involvement are just some of the obstacles that far too many Latino students must overcome to thrive in school. Latinas may face particular challenges based on prevalent stereotypes about them, teen pregnancy and parenting responsibilities, or responsibilities relating to other family members, such as younger siblings or elderly relatives.
Escalante gave his students the hope, motivation and tools to pursue a college degree. Teachers like him are rare. But Congress has an opportunity (in reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) to ensure that all students can pursue and are prepared for higher education opportunities.
Photo by ccarlstead via Flickr