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Escalante inspired inner-city students, U.S.

March 31, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
He inspired countless students and was the subject of the 1988 film "Stand and Deliver." Former Garfield High School math teacher Jaime Escalante is being remembered on Wednesday following his death from cancer at the age of 79.Escalante died on Tuesday at his son's home near Sacramento surrounded by his children and grandchildren.

Outside James A. Garfield High School, the flag flew at half-staff to mark Escalante's death. He is widely considered one of America's most successful teachers.

He taught at Garfield High for 17 years, and by the time he left in 1991, he had elevated the school's math program to one of the best in the country.

"Whenever I meet people across the nation, they always, 'Did you know Mr. Escalante? What was it like?'" said Garfield High School Vice Principal Ramiro Robalcaba. "He just inspired students, parents and teachers across the nation."

Robalcaba graduated from Garfield High School a few years after Escalante left.

Escalante was originally a teacher in Bolivia who immigrated to the U.S. He had to study English at night for years before he could get his California teaching credentials, but when he did, he put them to good use.

"He really put the school on the map. The entire nation knows Garfield High School, and we owe that to him," Robalcaba said.

Despite a low-income inner-city student body, Escalante produced some of the best math and science students in the country. He was the inspiration for the "Stand and Deliver," starring Edward James Olmos.

Nearly 20 years after he left Garfield, Escalante's achievements seemed lost on many students.

"He was a teacher here?" asked one student

"I heard that he was a teacher here, and that they made a movie, and mostly, that's all I know," said student Evelyn Martinez.

"He was a good teacher. He got all his students to pass that test. Yeah, he was a good teacher here," said student Cesar Jauregy.

But parent Tony Perez said he still remembered Escalante's greatness. His son was one of Escalante's students who now works as a computer engineer for Hewlett-Packard.

"I called him last night, I told him, and he got really sad because it really changed his whole life," he said.

Garfield administrators said they have grief counselors on hand to meet with faculty members who worked with Escalante.

Administrators are planning a memorial service for Thursday at 7 a.m. Students, teachers and community members are all invited.


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