Birthday: December 31, 1930
Nationality: American, Bolivian
Died At Age: 79
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Also Known As: Jaime Alfonso Escalante Gutierrez
Born Country: Bolivia
Born in: La Paz
Famous as: Teacher
Spouse/Ex-: Fabiola Tapia
father: Zenobio Escalante
mother: Sara Escalante
children: Fernando, Jaime Jr.
Died on: March 30, 2010
place of death: Roseville
education: California State University, Los Angeles, Pasadena City College
Jaime Alfonso Escalante Gutiérrez was a celebrated Bolivian teacher and one of the most famous educators in America during 1980s and 1990s. He began teaching mathematics to troubled students in a Los Angeles school and became famous for leading many of them to pass the advanced placement calculus test. Born to teacher parents, he realized that his true passion was teaching and following in their footsteps, he became an educator as well. Later, he left Bolivia in search of a better life but upon arriving in America, he learned that his teaching credentials were not sufficient to teach there. So he earned another bachelor's degree plus an American teaching certificate in order to become an educator. As a teacher, he strove to bring his kids to their full potential, working with them to help them understand mathematics. He is best remembered as the mathematics teacher at Garfield High School who led a group of students to excel at complex subjects such as advanced algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. A group of his students passed the advance placement exam in calculus for the first time in the history of the school—one of his greatest achievements as a teacher. He saw the potential in his students that other teachers had failed to see before, and pushed them to amazing heights.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on December 31, 1930 in La Paz, Bolivia, to Zenobio Escalante, and his wife, Sara Escalante, both of them elementary teachers. He had three siblings: two sisters and one brother.
He received his early education from San Calixto, a prestigious Jesuit high school where he developed a keen interest in mathematics and engineering.
Later he attended a college at Normal Superior in order to become a school teacher. In 1960s, he left Bolivia to seek a better life in the United States and obtained an Associate of Arts degree from the Pasadena City College in 1969.
He got enrolled at the California State University, Los Angeles, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1972. Eventually he obtained his teaching credentials from the California State University and the Florida State University.
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After obtaining his teaching credentials, he was appointed as a teacher at the Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, California, in 1974. He found himself in a challenging situation, teaching mathematics to troubled students in a rundown school known for violence and drugs.
Instead of gearing his classes to poorly performing students, he offered to teach them advanced placement calculus and started an advanced mathematics program with a handful of students.
In 1982, he came into national spotlight when his largest class till then, consisting of 18 students, took and passed an advanced placement test in calculus. However, the students were accused of cheating in the test to which he responded furiously.
He believed the scores had been challenged because they came from Hispanic students at a poor high school. The students were later vindicated when some of them agreed to retake the test and passed a second time.
Over the next few years his calculus program continued to grow but he received threats and hate mail from various individuals. By 1990, he lost the chairmanship of the mathematics department. The following year, he left Garfield and got himself a job at the Hiram W. Johnson High School in Sacramento, California.
But at the new job he did not seem to find the same level of success he had at his previous post and therefore, he took retirement from teaching in 1998.
In 2001, after many years of preparing teenagers for the advanced placement calculus exam, he returned to his native Bolivia and taught at ‘Universidad Privada del Valle’.
Awards & Achievements
In 1988, he was awarded the ‘Presidential Medal for Excellence in Education’ by the then President Ronald Reagan.
In 1998, he received the ‘Free Spirit Award’ from the Freedom Forum, and also won the ‘Andrés Bello Prize’ by the Organization of American States.
In 1999, he was inducted into the ‘National Teachers Hall of Fame’.
In 2002, he became a member of the ‘President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans’.
In 2005, he was presented with ‘The Highest Office Award’ by the Center for Youth Citizenship. The same year, he was conferred with the title of ‘Best teacher in North America’ by the Freedom Forum.
He has also received several honorary degrees from prestigious universities around the world such as the University of Massachusetts, California State University, Concordia University, University of Northern Colorado, and Wittenberg University.
Personal Life & Legacy
While at Normal Superior, he met Fabiola Tapia, and the couple married on November 25, 1954. They were blessed with two sons; Jaime Jr., born in 1955, and Fernando, born in 1969.
He died on March 30, 2010, in Roseville, CA, at the age of 79, after suffering from bladder cancer. He was buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park, Whittier Lakeside Gardens.
The 1988 Hollywood film, ‘Stand and Deliver’, is inspired from his life and times as a teacher, and how he changed the lives of his students.