Eastside Memorial High School the first winner of The Rather Prize

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — An East Austin high school making a comeback has another reason to celebrate.

Monday night at SXSWedu, Eastside Memorial High School found out they won the first Rather Prize, which comes with a $10,000 grant.

Back in August of 2015, former CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather and his grandson, Martin Rather, stopped by KXAN to announce and explain the contest.

They were looking for the best and brightest ideas from Texans to improve education in schools.

Anyone was welcome to submit ideas including teachers, parents and students.

Dr. Sanford Jeames, who coordinates the health science program at Eastside Memorial, is the teacher who submitted the school’s proposal.

He was in the audience Monday night when the winner was announced. “I was assuming we were in the top three, so this was in fact a complete surprise,” said Dr. Jeames.

His proposal, called the STEP Up Challenge, received 15,000 votes. STEP stands for Student Training and Enrichment Project, and was created out of conversations about how to better serve minority students.

“How can we expand the ability of the students to see beyond their immediate neighborhood,” said Dr. Jeames. “More importantly, how can we create these visions for careers, visions for education that will help our students become more competitive?”

The STEP Up Challenge will pair students with mentors, allow them to partner with businesses who can provide student apprenticeships and design better college visits where students not only get a campus tour, but can sit in on classes to get the full experience.

While employed at Eastside, Dr. Jeames continues to work in healthcare as a cancer advocate for patients. “All of that is part of the puzzle of having our students see people that are not just talking but they’re doing.”

Isaac Reyes, a senior at Eastside Memorial, has seen the transformation on campus since he started as a freshman.

“You think you’re not cut out for the world and you think you’re just going to stay at home and work a minimum wage job, but when Dr. Jeames or things like this come to the school it changes the whole perspective of everyone,” said Reyes.

Martin Rather believes the Eastside Memorial proposal garnered the most votes because so many people resonate with their story.

“It’s been somewhat of an embattled school in recent years, but we think this is part of the completion of their comeback,” said Martin Rather. “We can’t wait to work with them, and continue to look for the best ideas in education in Texas.”

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