Making the Grade - Hector & Axel Maldonado (Sam Rayburn High School)

“Whenever we see these kids on stage winning these awards, you know, knowing that they’re going to be able to pay for school because of the opportunities we’ve given them, just makes it worth it," Sam Rayburn High School art department chair Daniel Reyna says.

“We want this school not to follow the standard. We want to set the standard.”

In the Houston Rodeo artwork competition, Sam Rayburn High School has done just that, and it’s paying off as a portion of the revenue generated from the sale of these art pieces is awarded to the students. And Sam Rayburn is cleaning up. Five of the last seven grand champions have come from the school.

That brings us to Hector Maldonado and his twin brother, Axel. Hector is this year’s Houston Rodeo grand champion for his rendering of “After the Storm Comes a Calm”.

What was his reaction when he heard his name announced?

“Speechless. I didn't know what to think. It was a feeling that I’ll never forget. I don't know. I don't know how to explain it. It was like a new experience for me,” Hector says.

The drawing took over three months to finish and sold for $250,000. Of that, Hector collects 15.2 percent. Hector will use that money to invest in his college education.

His twin brother is also being honored for his rendering of “Push Through.” Axel is one of two American Visions nominees, quite uniquely, from the same region and school. Over 5,000 Harris County Department of Education scholastic art entries were submitted, five are selected and two were chosen.

“National ceremony and national competition that students all over the United States participate in,” SRHS art department chair Daniel Reyna says. “To be recognized there at Carnegie Hall is a big deal for us, because we've known whose been there before at Carnegie Hall.  A lot of times they'll have guests, a special surprise guest. One year they had Leonardo DiCaprio, they’ve had Whoopi Goldberg present there at the ceremonies.”

Reyna added that he doesn’t think the kids realize how big the moment is until they get to Carnegie Hall – “wow” moments that open the eyes of young people.

“The city adds to it, New York City. They light up the Empire State Building in gold in honor of the scholastic award winners, and they put some of the artwork up at Times Square,” says SRHS art teacher Victor Reygoza.

For the work they’ve put in, and grades they sport, these two are deserving – 4.0 and 3.5 GPA’s for Hector & Axel respectively.

“Their parents support them and they support what they do,” Reyna says. “In those times they need to stay late, they have to come pick them up or drop them off early or drop them off during Christmas break or Thanksgiving break to work on their artwork. Their parents are very supportive. That also helps us too.”

Their gifts and talents were somewhat of a surprise to the parents.

“They never really thought we had the potential to do something like this. And when they noticed, ‘oh, my god, they can draw, they can do art’. They got really excited. When I got announced grand champion, my mom started crying. She was really proud of us,” Hector says.

But this genius had to start somewhere.

“We used to have papers taped. We put the paper on the TV and we draw and copy the cartoons on TV,” Axel says.

It worked, and to this point, these young twin artists are experiencing hearty success.