‘Stand and Deliver’ teacher talks respect

By Cynthia Retamozo

“You have to have ‘ganas.’ [That means] you have to have desire and the powerful urge to get ahead,” said mathematics teacher Jaime Escalante, whose teaching career is portrayed in the movie “Stand and Deliver.”

Yesterday, the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), and the Alpha Association of Latin Professionals in Finance and Accounting held “Stand and Deliver: The Man Behind the Movie” at Raytheon Amphitheater.

Junior management and marketing major Christina Rosario and junior electrical engineering major Cesar Sanchez organized the event with hopes of presenting students with a role model to look up to.

“We wanted to give the students an opportunity to see someone who is a highly regarded figure,” Sanchez said. “We’re hoping that students will gain knowledge and motivation from his teaching experiences.”

Escalante began his talk by reflecting on the beginning of his teaching career in 1974 at Garfield High School, located in an impoverished area in Los Angeles. When he started there were only 12 students in the school motivated enough to take algebra. In the years ahead, the numbers grew so dramatically that by 1990, there were over 400 students enrolled in algebra classes, with the average class size at 50 students.

What worked for these initially unmotivated students, many of whom were immigrants from low-income families in unsafe neighborhoods, were Escalante’s unconventional teaching methods.

Escalante showed his students ways to easily remember the times tables and uncommon, yet simpler, ways to do double-digit multiplication.

Throughout his teaching career at Garfield, he frequently reminded his students that they needed “ganas.” With this and Escalante’s upbeat personality, his students were able to succeed and move on to prestigious colleges like Stanford and MIT.

This success, however, led to strife and skepticism. Even Edward James Olmos, the actor who played Escalante in “Stand and Deliver,” said he didn’t believe it at first when he read the script for the movie.

The movie itself focuses on Escalante’s most difficult trial, which was when his class had done exceptionally well on the AP Calculus exam and were labeled cheaters because the testing authorities didn’t believe students from a rundown school could perform so well.

However, the numbers showed the improvements for themselves as the students took the test again and passed.

“Not one person can tell you your destiny,” Escalante said. “I have seen kids, who people thought would never make it, become Ph. D’s.”

Along with drive, Escalante emphasized showing respect, discipline, and responsibility to his students. He said that he did not create talent, but only discovered it. Even in the students who people think are going to be murdered on the street, get pregnant or drop out of school, there is talent that needs to be discovered, Escalante said.

Northeastern students and high school students from Hyde Park Engineering School received Escalante well, noting his intelligence and motivational methods.

“He was very intellectual,” said middler computer engineering and marketing major Luis Guirado. “He even gave me a little speech about my upcoming calculus final.”

Junior accounting and finance major Vinny Tejada agreed that Escalante was inspiring.

“You can tell he’s a very smart man,” he said. “From his teaching demonstrations you can see that he makes learning fun.”

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