Published on
The Toronto Star

If You Love This Planet, Make Art

Oak Ridges Moraine source of inspiration for high schoolers' mosaics, tiles, T-shirts

Kenyon Wallace

Oak Ridges Moraine, York Region, Southern Ontario. (flickr photo by Michael Barkowski used under Creative Commons license)

Julia Spittel worries today's young people are losing touch with their natural surroundings.

Inspired by the majestic landscape of the Yukon Territory during a trip there six years ago, the Langstaff Secondary School visual arts teacher decided to introduce environmental themes into her teaching to get students closer to nature.

"I want my students to learn that they're not living in a vacuum, that they share the planet, and specifically their neighbourhood, with creatures, whether they're plants, animals, insects or fish," explains Spittel, 43. "I want them to look around, to realize they're not the only ones here."

Walk through the halls of Langstaff Secondary and the results of Spittel's efforts are hard to miss. An 8-metre-high wall covered in colourful mosaics greets students in the school's indoor courtyard, visible from 10 classrooms.

Soon a series of handmade relief tiles will be installed in the library hallway. The idea is that students can "speak" to their peers about environmental issues through the display of their artwork, says Spittel.

Much of the artwork is the product of tree-planting trips to the nearby Oak Ridges Moraine that Spittel organizes so that her students can research moraine flora or fauna for their major term projects.

For her Grade 10 photography class, Spittel has her students make silkscreen T-shirts featuring eco-focused designs.

The intention is to send a message to others about lifestyle choices we make that affect the environment by creating striking logos.

"My fear is that if students don't know what's out there, they won't know what to save and what to look out for," Spittel says.

"So many of the kids don't go outside, and it terrifies me."

In the lead-up to Earth Hour 2009 (8:30 p.m. March 28), the Star presents a series on people leading the way in fighting climate change and caring for the Earth. To nominate an Earth Angel, email

To read all of our coverage of Earth Hour, go to

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