PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. — Students and staff of Pelican Rapids High School were treated to a colorful surprise as they pulled up to their first day of the 2020-2021 school year.

Chalk art murals lined the sidewalks of the high school to welcome everyone back to the new year after a 175 day break from the building.

Karla Breen is the brain behind these murals. She helped organize a "Chalk Art Blitz" outside a nursing home in town as part of a virtual vacation bible school earlier this summer, which helped spark the idea.

"The project came about last minute," she said. "On Friday when I left work, I went for a run. While I was running, I started thinking how we really need to do something meaningful to show our students, especially our seniors, that we are beyond excited to have them back in the building and that we will get through this unprecedented time together."

With some help from the administration and school staff and their children, the project took on a life of its own.

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The mural features sayings and drawing dedicated to students and staff at the school.

"Faith over Fear" is a piece of the chalk art mural that welcomed students back to school on Sept. 8, 2020. Kate Woolever Martinez / Special to InForum
"Faith over Fear" is a piece of the chalk art mural that welcomed students back to school on Sept. 8, 2020. Kate Woolever Martinez / Special to InForum
Another piece of the "Faith Over Fear" part of the mural that welcomed students and staff back to school on Sept. 8, 2020. Kate Woolever Martinez / Special to InForum
Another piece of the "Faith Over Fear" part of the mural that welcomed students and staff back to school on Sept. 8, 2020. Kate Woolever Martinez / Special to InForum

"Faith Over Fear" was drawn in honor of the Faith Westby, who would have begun her senior year this year with her classmates, but passed away in 2019.

"Be Awesome Today" is a piece of the chalk art mural that welcomed students back to school on Sept. 8, 2020. Kate Woolever Martinez / Special to InForum
"Be Awesome Today" is a piece of the chalk art mural that welcomed students back to school on Sept. 8, 2020. Kate Woolever Martinez / Special to InForum

The pineapple was created in memory of Pelican Rapids' late superintendent Edwin Richardson, who passed away in April 2020. Richardson's signature quote was "Be awesome today", which can be seen on either side of the pineapple, another nod to the late superintendent. His "Oh My Pineapple" award was given to staff and students during his reign as head of the school district.

Breen says the response has been very positive.

"As a parent of a senior in this incredible class of 2021, THANK YOU SO INCREDIBLY MUCH!!!," said Staci Haiby, in a district-wide email. "I literally have tears rolling down my cheeks seeing this!! Thank you for caring for our students and staff so much to create such a wonderful first steps tomorrow to be so powerful and positive!! We will persevere!! Go Vikings!!!"

"I absolutely love this!!!!," said Angella Westby, another response to the email sent to the Pelican Rapids School district. "THANK YOU to everyone who created this feel good message for our students and teachers! We ARE united in strength and who better to have on each of our sides, Dr. Richardson and Faith! Love, love, love!"

Breen says this art was intended to make a statement to the students that the teaching staff of Pelican Rapids High School will go above and beyond to get them through this year.

"The Pelican Rapids Class of 2021 has gone through hard times together, losing these two influential figures," said Breen. "I cannot speak for the students, but we knew we wanted to include the positive messages and honor the legacy of both Faith and Dr. Richardson. Through our trials, the PRHS community has become unified, and now in these uncertain times of COVID-19, our unity is our strength."