An East Austin educator has been awarded the inaugural Rather Prize, which is meant to honor a Texas student, teacher or administrator with the best idea to improve Texas education.

Dr. Sanford Jeames is the coordinator of the health science program at Eastside Memorial High School, and he's determined to help his students take the first steps to success.

"What we try to do is provide our students with an opportunity to do more than just go to class," he said. "Students in our program can leave with five professional certifications."

Now he has a new tool to help them succeed.

"This winning idea for this year's Rather Prize can at least give them a little bit of a nudge," said TV journalist Dan Rather.

The $10,000 prize was co-created by Rice University student Martin Rather and his journalist grandfather.

For the past couple of months, educators and the public have been voting for ideas from 10 finalists from across the state. Dr. Jeames' winning idea is called the “STEP Up Challenge.”

"We think it's widely applicable, it's practical, it can be put in place at a variety of different schools," Martin Rather said.

STEP stands for the Student Training and Enrichment Project, and involves mentoring, leadership through service and pathways to college.

"We think our idea with the Rather Prize is something that impacts our students right now," Jeames said. "A community learning environment is not just a classroom, it's really having the students know that there's a partnership beyond that."

Junior Haley Del Rio said the STEP program idea is a great way to bring in more mentors and community leaders that she and her classmates can relate to.

"I think that's what the Rather Prize will do, we'll get to see college life and talk to real college students," Del Rio said. "And a lot of times I don't see a lot of minorities, that will definitely help me, to see minorities in big places because that's where I'm going."

Jeames said he's thankful for the Rather Prize and the opportunity to find new ideas that benefit kids in every classroom.

"It's been able to bring some attention to maybe some things we can do to really affect education in the state of Texas," he said.

The inaugural Rather Prize was presented at 5 p.m. Monday during SXSWedu at the Austin Convention Center.

From August 2015, Dan and Martin Rather discuss the Rather Prize with KVUE's Quita Culpepper.