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Jaime Escalante was born December 31, 1930 in La Paz, Bolivia. Following in his parents footsteps he began his career teaching physics and mathematics (grades 10-12) in La Paz. But in 1964 he decided to emigrate to the United States. He first attended Universitad de Puerto Rico to take extra courses in mathematics and physics but arrived in the United States still speaking little English and without a teaching certification valid in the USA. While working as a technician at a computer factory he went to night school and obtained first an associates degree in electronics (Pasadena City College, 1969) and then a B.A. in mathematics (CSU, Los Angeles) before earning his teaching credentials in 1974. Jaime Escalante began teaching mathematics at Garfield High School in 1974.

At first the situation was very discouraging. The students were under-prepared and unmotivated in the classroom, and the administration opposed the changes he felt necessary to bring greater rigor, discipline, and accountability from the students but changes that he felt would also open greater opportunities for them. But with the support of a new administration Jaime Escalante persevered and the math program began to grow in expectation, support and the number of students.

image of Jaime Escalante

Photograph in the Public Domain.

In 1979 he was able to offer an AP calculus course for the first time. In 1982 eighteen students passed the AP test but the Educational Testing Service (who run the AP courses) asked that fourteen students retake the test. Two of the students decided they did not need the academic credit and declined but the other twelve students retook the test, passed, and had their scores reinstated. This incident is the basis for the movie Stand and Deliver (1987). The math program continued to grow under Jaime Escalante but in 1991 he left to teach in Sacramento until he retired in 1998.

He was inducted into the Teachers Hall of Fame in 1999. In addition, he was the host of the PBS series Futures for two seasons. The series presents the application of mathematics in a variety of careers from engineering, to fashion, to sports. One of the key factors in Jaime Escalante's teaching philosophy is that teachers have the responsibility to help students develop (and students have the responsibility to develop) ganas - in this case, a desire to learn that can be focused, with hard work and discipline, into an unstoppable will. Among his awards are the Hispanic Heritage Award for Education (1998), and the Andres Bello Prize from the Organization of American States(1998).

In 2001, Jaime Escalante returned to Bolivia though he frequently returned to the United States. He joined the Presidential Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans in 2002

Jaime Escalante passed away 30 March 2010.

More information is in his biography Escalante: the Best Teacher in America (1988) by Jay Matthews.

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