By Jeff Labrecque
Updated March 31, 2010 at 01:14 PM EDT
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Credit: Everett Collection

Image Credit: Everett CollectionThe passing of math teacher Jaime Escalante on Tuesday echoes far beyond the East L.A. classrooms where he taught underprivileged students for decades. The 1988 film, Stand and Deliver, introduced his stubborn dedication to the barrio kids of Garfield High School to the world, and even middle-class kids in suburban New Jersey like myself were inspired by his drive and ingenuity. Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica) was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Escalante, an unconventional educator who refuses to give up on his kids and inspires them to pass the difficult Advanced Placement calculus exam. I have no doubt that Escalante and Olmos also inspired a generation of teachers to try new ways to connect with their own students. It’s funny. When I read the sad news, my first thought was of Olmos’ performance in the film. But the second was of my own beloved high school mentors who made such an impact on my own life. We’re lucky to have maybe one teacher who recognizes a latent talent in ourselves even before we do, and even if they weren’t dashing like Robin Williams’ Mr. Keating or artsy like Richard Dreyfuss’ Mr. Holland, their fingerprints are all over our subsequent achievements.

What role models do you remember growing up? Let’s pay tribute to them today, in honor of Kimo’s passing.

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