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A film by Ramon Menendez
Based on a true story, this low budget theatrical masterpiece opens with the background of Eastern LA. In an environment that values a quick fix over education and learning, Jaime A. Escalante is a new teacher at James A. Garfield High School determined to change the system and challenge the students to a higher level of excellence. Leaving a steady job for a lowly position as a math teacher in a school where rebellion runs high and teachers are more focused on discipline than academics, Escalante is at first not well liked by students, receiving numerous taunts and threats. As the year progresses, he is able to win over the attention of the students by implementing innovative teaching techniques, using props and humor to illustrate abstract concepts of math and convey the necessity of math in everyday lives. We all use math every day, a value that Escalante successfully instills. He is able to transform even the most troublesome teens to dedicated students, ready to learn. While Escalante teachs math 1A, basic math, he soon realizes that his students are capable of more than the expectations set forth by the school board. Despite concerns and skepticism of other teachers, who feel that "you can't teach logarithms to illiterates", Escalante nonetheless develops a program in which his students can rise to take AP Calculus by their senior year. This intense math program requires that students take summer classes, including Saturdays, from 7 to 12, tasking for even the most devoted and committed students. While other students spent their summers "barefoot and pregnant", these math enthusiasts were learning complex theorems and formulas. The vast contrast between home life and school life, however, begins to show as these teens struggle to find the balance between what other adults expect of them and the goals and ambitions they hold for themselves. With Escalante to help them, they soon find the courage to separate from society's expectations for failure and rise to the standard to which Escalante holds them to, a standard of success. Taking the AP Calculus exam in the spring of their senior year, these students are relieved and overjoyed to be finished with a strenuous year. After receiving their scores, they are overwhelmed with emotion to find that they have all passed, a feat done by few in the state. Later that summer, a shocking accusation is made. The Educational Testing Service calls into question the validity of their scores when it is discovered that similarities between errors is too high for pure chance. Outraged by the implications of cheating, Escalante feels that the racial and economic status of the students has caused the ETS to doubt their intelligence. In order to prove their mathematical abilities and worth to the school, to the ETS, and to the nation, the students agree to retake the test at the end of the summer, months after their last class. With only a day to prepare, there is high stress to show that they have what it takes to make something of themselves. After the retake, these students truly stand and deliver when they all pass the exam again, showing they deserve all they have achieved.