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The larger-than-life mural has transformed what was once a blank wall in a government waiting room into a colorful image of hills, flowers and children reading together.

A group of Shakopee High School students completed the 10-by-20-foot piece at the Scott County Health and Human Services Department this summer. It's the first of several murals planned at the newly renovated Government Center campus through the high school's Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS), a program that provides students with career preparation and real-life experiences working with professional organizations.

Health and Human Services staff requested the mural highlight early-learning literacy and reflect diversity. Other than that, said Cara Madsen, the county's volunteer and community coordinator, "the sky was the limit."

"I love that ... Scott County invites us in, and wants to create that partnership and build those skills with those students," said Leah Zvanovec, Creative Media CAPS instructor. "Somebody's really giving you that opportunity to show your skills and your talents and that you're capable."

To participate, students had to go through a formal job application process. Five were chosen, including senior Sydney Bethel. The job piqued Bethel's interest because of her lifelong passion for art — she hopes to one day become an art teacher — and though the application process "was actually really stressful," she said, it paid off.

"One of the biggest things that I took away was the whole, 'Trust the process,'" Bethel said. "Because sometimes you may not think at first that it's going to work, but if you put the work in, and you try, it'll turn out and be amazing."

The students worked together to develop concepts and presented three designs to staff, who chose the final design. Students sketched out a grid to lay out the mural's structure, and three student artists, including Bethel, painted it over the summer.

"This little 8-by-10 paper now became 10-by-20 feet," Madsen said. "They were very excited to learn and they were very excited in the process."

The mural began drawing in community members even before it was completed, Bethel said.

"There were people outside the window who were looking at it, and they were all so awestruck," she said. "And it was just so nice to see how something I did was going to go towards the community, and people were excited to see it."

After the success of the first mural, five more are planned for other walls at the Government Center. The campus includes a new building housing Health and Human Services — completed in March 2021 — and renovations to an existing building.

Additional murals will be completed on a yearly basis through the CAPS program.

"We were like the guinea pigs," Bethel said. "I'm so excited for other students to have the opportunity that I did, and learn important things about themselves, and then also contribute to the community."