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Supporters seek to help legendary former East L.A. teacher as he battles cancer

March 2, 2010 |  4:23 pm

Jaime Escalante
Jaime Escalante spent a career helping youths learn math. His exploits teaching calculus at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles were immortalized in the film "Stand and Deliver."

Now, the 79-year-old former teacher is suffering from advanced stages of cancer, and his friends and supporters are seeking to help the family pay medical bills while Escalante undergoes treatment at a center in Reno, Nev.

"He probably has changed the course of the way we view inner-city children of color with his commitment to helping them understand mathematics," said actor Edward James Olmos, who portrayed Escalante in the 1988 feature film. "Mathematics is a great equalizer. It's a universal language."

Olmos said Tuesday that Escalante may have only a few weeks to live and that his family can no longer afford to cover the treatment costs at a holistic cancer center in Reno. Escalante is suffering from bladder cancer that has spread to other parts of his body, according to Olmos.

To help pay for medical costs, which are totaling several thousand dollars a day, cast members from "Stand and Deliver" and other supporters will hold a fundraising event Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. outside of Garfield High. Olmos said he plans to be there in the afternoon.

Born in Bolivia, Escalante came to Los Angeles in the early 1960s and later was hired to teach math at Garfield. He helped transform the school's calculus program into one of the top public high school programs in the nation.

In 1999, Escalante moved back to Bolivia to teach math. He returned to the U.S. about four months ago to seek treatment.

 Olmos, who posted a call for help on his website, said he paid for Escalante and some of his family to return to the United States. Escalante's wife is still in Bolivia and is hoping to make her way to Reno.

"They're really in trouble," Olmos said of the family's financial situation. "They need help."

-- Robert J. Lopez

Photo: Jaime Escalante with members of the Garfield High band during a 1998 event to celebrate his inclusion into the Latino Walk of Fame. Credit: Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times.