A group of Shakopee High School students completed a long-awaited project this summer, developing and painting a mural at the new Scott County Government Center West building.

The mural, roughly 10 feet tall by 20 feet wide, makes up a large wall in the children’s waiting room within Health and Human Services. The painting features groups of children interacting with books and each other in a fantastical, outdoor setting.

“They brought that beautiful mural to the wall. They were so proud of themselves, and they should be,” said Cara Madsen, Scott County volunteer and community coordinator. “We were very, very happy with the outcome.”

Real-world process

While the mural was officially completed this summer, the project had been in development since the start of last school year.

When the west building opened about a year and a half ago, Madsen said County Administrator Lezlie Vermillion proposed the idea of setting up an internship with CAPS students at Shakopee High School. The CAPS program allows juniors and seniors to gain real-world, career experience in high school through working with local businesses and organizations.

The CAPS program lasts three quarters of the school year, beginning in September and typically ending toward the latter half of March.

To be selected for the project, Shakopee High School CAPS instructor Leah Zvanovec said students had to undergo a real-world hiring process by developing a resume, applying for the position and being interviewed by Madsen.

“It brings a ton of excitement and opportunity, and they feel like their efforts are really being utilized — that’s huge for a kid,” Zvanovec said about students gaining this experience through CAPS.

Five students were ultimately chosen for the internship: Sydney Bethel, Lindsey Brewer, Linda Nguyen, Hayden Tran and Kassidy Vo.

Moving into January, the students began working on concept designs. They had creative freedom but one core requirement — that the mural embody the theme of “early literacy and diversity.”

“Those were two things we felt were important,” Madsen said on choosing this overarching theme. “Early literacy is very important to Scott County, and we work very closely with the schools on the early literacy program. With the diversity that we now have in Scott County, we wanted that to be represented, as well.”

The group spent the next eight weeks developing three unique iterations of a mural that followed this prompt. Madsen and the students touched base every week to provide updates on the concept designs and receive feedback.

In the last week of the internship, the group gave an in-person presentation on their final concepts to the Health and Human Services directors. The directors then voted on which of the three should become the official mural design.

The students started work on painting the mural from April through the end of the school year. Three of the five students — Bethel, Nguyen and Vo — extended their internship and handled the painting duties through participating in a “creative professionals” course, led by high school art teacher Bridget Hauff.

The class, incorporating some similar elements to CAPS, helps students grow as creative professionals by developing artistic and career skills as well as working with community partners.

The three students would go offsite to the government center to paint, using materials primarily sourced through the Scott County Household Waste Facility’s reuse room.

Hauff said she helped ensure the students were meeting deadlines and connecting with their clients at the government center. The group also regularly returned to her with photos showing the mural’s progress.

Ripple effect

After months of hard work, the mural was officially completed in June.

“In an art classroom, they create a work that they can be proud of and can be their own, but the impact of that maybe is less long-lasting, whereas this process continues to have that ripple effect,” Hauff said regarding the mural’s impact in Scott County.

“Now a student can walk into that space, see someone on that wall … and say, ‘That looks like me,’” she added. “To know that my students got to be the person who painted that, that gave that other person value and meaning just by an art piece they did — that’s so great.”

Bethel shared these sentiments with the superintendent and school board during a brief presentation at the Aug. 22 board meeting.

She said her time with the internship helped her to build many real-world skills she can utilize after high school. Bethel also highlighted the long-term impact this mural can have.

“It was really nice to be able to showcase the skills that we had for something that was actually going to go into the society and that other people were going to see,” she said.

Madsen said she has already seen lots of excitement generated from the government center’s new mural, adding that the success of this project opens up the possibility for future creative partnerships with CAPS students at the high school.

“We’re very thrilled with the work that the students have done,” she said. “We do have another internship that we are looking at for next year for students for another large wall (in Health and Human Services) … there have been discussions about other areas that we might look at for murals down the road.”