Having attended and been a visiting artist in public schools in Southern California and now a resident of Bolivia, I applaud the life and work of recently deceased famed teacher Jaime Escalante, 79, a native of La Paz, Bolivia who transformed the teaching environment in Los Angeles, California and beyond. His family announced that he passed away in Reno, Nevada on March 30 of coronary and respiratory failure, precipitated by cancer.
Jaime was an accomplished and popular science and mathematics teacher in Colegio San Calixto, La Paz, Bolivia. At the age of 33, in 1963, he went to the United States. Since he spoke almost no English, he needed to return to school to become a certified teacher in California.
For more than a decade he studied, while working at various jobs – a restaurant, a computer company.
In 1974 he started teaching at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. I can imagine it was somewhat like Paramount High School that I attended that same year, a few exits down the freeway. At Paramount there were drugs and there were gangs. Violence was common. Some students carried guns. One of my classmates was shot dead during a lunch break. We students didn't talk about our dreams for the future. We were just concerned with existing from day to day.
Jaime Escalante was not content to accept the status quo. He was determined to show that his students were capable of the same academic excellence as students in the best prep schools aiming for the Ivy League.
His work was dramatized and celebrated in the popular 1988 movie, Stand and Deliver, as well as in a number of books, including Escalante: The Best Teacher in America (1989), by Washington Post writer Jay Mathews. In addition he became a presence around the world through the PBS series FUTURES with Jaime Escalante.
In memory and celebration of the life and work of Jaime Escalante, here is what some of his colleagues have to say:
Edward James Olmos, who played Escalante in Stand and Deliver: "Jaime exposed one of the most dangerous myths of our time – that inner city students can't be expected to perform at the highest levels. Because of him, that destructive idea has been shattered forever. This is a legacy that changed American education, and I will work to ensure that it continues long into the future. The best way to honor the life and work of this great man is to keep it going and I, along with others whose lives he touched, intend to do that." In lieu of flowers Olmos is asking those who share this goal to send donations to the Jaime Escalante Legacy Project at 236 West Mountain Street, Suite 105, Pasadena CA 91103.
Actress Vanessa Marquez, who played a student in the film Stand and Deliver: "Jaime's greatest gift not only to me but to anyone taught by him or who saw Stand and Deliver is that no matter who you are or where you came from you can achieve anything. It is no surprise that after meeting him I aced all of my math classes in college and I have used what I learned from him for the past 23 years. He will always be a part of my life."
Escalante is survived by his wife, two sons, and six grandchildren. Services are pending.
Many hope that Jaime Escalante's remains will be repatriated to his homeland where he is revered as the most famous teacher in Bolivian history.
May we all shine our light and illuminate humanity, inspired by the life and work of Bolivian Jaime Escalante.