For the last couple years, students and staff at the Owatonna Area Learning Center have created fence murals with positive messages to display for the community.

Science teacher Kim Penning, along with art teacher Jessica Klein, have been working with several students for the past few months drawing up plans and ideas for the fence lining the west side of the school campus.

Owatonna ALC Fence

After learning more than 14 languages are spoken in the district, Owatonna ALC art teacher Jessica Klein and science teacher Kim Penning were inspired to spread the message of ‘hope’ in the different languages spoken around the community. (Emily Kahnke/southernminn.com)

“The theme is ‘hope’,” Penning said. “With all of the hard things going on in the world today, we wanted to share the message of hope. Since we view the ALC as an inclusive school, we thought why not speak the word of hope in many languages”

The idea of displaying the message in several languages was inspired by Klein, who had an interaction with a parent of an Owatonna Online student. She said the parent spoke only Mandarin Chinese, and she decided to look further into the diversity of the students in the school district to be able to include as many languages as possible for the new fence display.

Klein and Penning contacted Martina Wagner, the Equity Coordinator for the district, and received information about all the demographics represented in the school district.

“Martina told us about 14 different languages are spoken by our students throughout the district,” Penning said. “Then we started to research the word ‘hope’ in the different languages and translate it to include in the fence.”

While working on the fence with her students earlier this week, Klein was struck when a student asked her if she thought people will feel included when they see their language displayed on the fence.

“That is the whole point of why we’re doing this — so everyone feels included,” said an emotional Klein. “I think it means a lot more to the students to know they’re making a difference and contributing.”

Students placing cups

Many students at the Owatonna ALC were thrilled to get involved with the newest fence mural at the school to spread the message of ‘hope’ in 14 different languages. (Emily Kahnke/southernminn.com)

Penning said she and many of the students were unaware just how diverse the languages spoken in the district are and many tend to take for granted how the overwhelming majority speak English.

“We wanted to make sure we are representing our kids with all their different backgrounds,” Penning said. “We also wanted to send the message of positivity, equity and inclusivity, and inspire kids to take the power within themselves to have a positive affect on others.”

To make the elaborate designs on the fence was no small feat either. Klein began using graphing paper to plan out how the words would fit on the fence (with a little help from the internet) and a guide on how to do the letters.

Penning said as a science teacher she was less than thrilled with the amount of waste they dealt with with previous designs using different colored plastic cups.

“I’m passionate about the planet, so I started researching alternatives to the cups that would be less waste and also wouldn’t fall out as easily as the cups did,” Penning said. “I found these cups that are specific for fence designs and we can reuse and recycle them.”

Penning said they were also able to receive a grant to purchase the cups. They were thrilled with this news and were able to order dozens of the cups in many different colors to make their designs eye catching and aw-inspiring.

ALC staff and students began working on the fence earlier this week and were able to complete six of the 14 words for the design. Klein said she anticipates they will be finished by the end of the school year and has ideas of adding flower designs along with the several translations of the word “hope.”

Reach Reporter Emily Kahnke at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2022 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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