Reagan Senior Awarded Perfect Exam Score for Hand Sculptures
By Amy Morgan
It’s an honor never before experienced by a Ronald Reagan High School student. One of its own, senior Ania Valdez, earned a rare perfect score on the 3-D Art and Design AP exam. Ania was one of just 52 in the entire world with that distinction in 2023.
While many of NEISD’s best and brightest challenge themselves with AP classes, both for the college-level curriculum and the opportunity to bolster competitive GPAs and class ranks, few achieve a top ranking of 5, and fewer still earn a perfect score.
The 3-D Art and Design Exam differs from most other AP exams in that it does not involve taking a test. Ania prepared a three-part portfolio that included photos of her artwork and a list of materials used and detailed physical dimensions; a written portion that described the meaning and motivation for the piece; as well as images of other selected works to provide additional support of talent. Each portion was graded and scored by a separate judge. Ania was shocked and delighted when the tally equaled not just a 5, but also a perfect score.
"I still can't believe it, honestly," Ania told representatives from NEISD. "I thought they might have the wrong student! But I was really happy. It made my day and made everything worth it."
Ania’s winning piece is a 3-D plaster sculpture of a hand balancing a feather on its finger titled “Craving.” She noted the hand reaches for balance, something she found difficult to achieve her sophomore year at Reagan. The torn area where the wrist attaches to the base represents growth from chaos. Ania became fascinated with the idea of sculpting hands because of “their versatility of expression and ability to tell a story.”
It wasn’t until freshman year, when school went online due to the pandemic, that Ania devoted more time to developing her skill. Her mother is also an artist, and her father builds wooden birdhouses as a hobby, so working artistically in three dimensions was not a novel idea in the Valdez household. Ania created the first molds of her own hands with crafting materials available at home, realizing quickly that an alginate gel plaster allowed her more flexibility to manipulate the sculpture as it dried. She credits Reagan’s art teachers Ms. Fox and Ms. Bieniek for inspiring her and allowing her the freedom to express her creativity. “I’m so grateful Ms. B. let me work on my own time to fully finish out and execute my ideas,” Ania said. “She even gave me my own special place on a patio to mix my chemicals.”
Another of Ania’s portfolio pieces titled “Shame” includes seven hands in different positions arranged in space pointing down at an empty hoody spray-painted red, black, and grey. She said some of the hands connect to biblical references of sin and as a way to portray a sens of shame that would be commonly relatable.
Another hand marked with blue veins streams down into a drain. Its title, “The Drip Finally Stops,” echoes a quote from one of her favorite shows, BoJack Horseman, that cautions against giving so much of oneself nothing remains.
The thoughtful student enjoys philosophy and deep conversations. She’s hopeful she’ll find a multidisciplinary major and future career that allow her to combine her love of art and science. Right now, she’s excited about physics and is looking at Stony Brook University, intrigued by a class called the Quantum Moment.
In addition to artistic and academic accomplishments, Ania also reached District competition in long and triple jump on Reagan’s varsity track team. She’s an officer in the Science Honor Society and part of the National Honor Society.
The bilingual student moved with her family to Stone Oak from Monterrey, Mexico, just before kindergarten. She enjoys being able to converse with the many faculty members and classmates who speak Spanish at Reagan.
A final sculpture depicts a hand emerging through a layer of brightly colored embroidery threads, symbolically pushing through boundaries to develop character — a skill Ania’s mastered.