Jaime Escalante, the East Los Angeles math teacher whose story inspired the 1988 movie Stand and Deliver starring an Oscar-nominated Edward James Olmos, died at his son’s Reno, Nevada, home Tuesday after a lengthy battle with bladder cancer. He was 79.
From his classroom at Garfield High School, the real-life hero completely transformed the school’s math curriculum and pushed his struggling students to master advanced math and science courses. At one point, Garfield had the fifth-highest number of advanced placement calculus students in the country.
Escalante left the school in 1991 and taught in Sacramento before retiring to his native Bolivia in 2001. He is survived by his wife, two sons and six grandchildren – and a countless number of successful students.
Nora Gonzalez, who attended Garfield from 1982 to 1985 – and took Algebra 2, Trig, Math Analysis and Calculus from Escalante – told PEOPLE earlier this month: “It makes such a difference to have had a teacher who is as dedicated and giving to his students as Mr. Esclanate was. This man stayed late working with his students, He worked with us through recesses and lunches and weekends. He was there for us, for every one of us who was willing to work.
“There were no limits to how giving he was to his students, and he could always explain things in a way that we could understand what he was talking about.”
Gonzalez, who today is a school principal, also said,: “His passion for teaching was inspiring to me. The only reason that I went into teaching was because of this man. He treated each of us like we were his own children. I would feel selfish sometimes, like he spent more time with us than he did his own children. It is because of him that I am who I am today.”
• Reporting by OLIVER JONES