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A Capital Audience Stands And Delivers Escalante Ovation

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WASHINGTON--Jaime Escalante, the Los Angeles teacher who has become a national celebrity, was introduced last week by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett to a Washington audience previewing the new movie that depicts Mr. Escalante's work at James A. Garfield High School.

"This is a film about math and about American education,'' Mr. Bennett said. "It is also about courage, persistence, hope, and achievement.''

The movie, "Stand and Deliver,'' portrays Mr. Escalante's efforts to attract Hispanic students at the troubled high school in East Los Angeles to mathematics and calculus courses, and to help them earn college credit by passing advanced-placement exams.

The Warner Brothers production, billed as "the true story of a modern miracle,'' features Edward James Olmos--Lt. Castillo of "Miami Vice'' fame--as Mr. Escalante. Also appearing, as a student, is Lou Diamond Phillips, star of last year's box-office hit "La Bamba.'' The movie is set to be released for general audiences this month.

Speaking to the preview audience, Mr. Escalante said the film was 90 percent accurate, but he downplayed the praise he received from Mr. Bennett.

"The only thing I'm doing is sharing knowledge with my kids,'' he said.

Mr. Escalante, originally from Bolivia, began teaching at Garfield High School in 1979. Despite the skepticism of fellow teachers, he introduced a calculus course that year; five students took and passed the difficult advanced-placement exam in the subject.

Since then, the number of students taking the exam has increased each year, as has the number of perfect scores. Last year, 87 students passed the exam.

The Los Angeles teacher's efforts were highlighted by Mr. Bennett earlier this year in the Secretary's proposed model curriculum for "James Madison High School.''

The Washington audience, packed with department officials and guests, apparently liked the film. At its conclusion, they stood to give Mr. Escalante an ovation but the teacher had already ducked out of the theater.--R.R.W.

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