Last week I wrote a column on America's troubled school systems and referred to Jaime Escalante, former Garfield High School math instructor in the barrio community of East Los Angeles, as an inspiration of what good teachers can accomplish.
Today, actors who portrayed him and his uplifting story in the movie "Stand and Deliver," are making public pleas for donations to help pay doctor bills for the retired teacher, subject of a book "Jaime Escalante -- The Best Teacher In America."
Escalante, 79, is stricken with cancer and his family is too proud to ask for help.
On his web site, actor James Olmos who portrayed Escalante in the 1988 film, wrote "the treatment he needs has depleted all the funds his family can raise." He said the family "did not want to ask for help, but we took it upon ourselves to get the word out to all the country and around the world, to make his final days as comfortable as possible -- and maybe even give him a chance to beat the cancer that has afflicted him."
Escalante is now living in La Paz, Bolivia, where he returned in 1999 to teach and give back to his native country what he learned in the United States.
The son of two teachers, Escalante learned English and migrated to the U.S. where he was eventually hired as a math teacher at Garfield. He took a small group of "unteacheable" students, inspiring them to live up to their potential. In 1984, his largest class in advanced calculus placed among the highest in national testing.
The feisty teacher later taught in the Sacramento school system with less tangible results and received some criticism for lobbying against bilingual education in California schools, according to his biography.
Among his awards include the Presidential Medal for Excellence and induction into the National Teachers Hall of Fame in 1999.