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Looking up! Students at Miami Springs Middle School create Art For the Sky

Students from Miami Springs Middle School dress in blue and green shirts fill up the planet image during Art For the Sky on Dec. 8.
Students from Miami Springs Middle School dress in blue and green shirts fill up the planet image during Art For the Sky on Dec. 8. For the Miami Herald

Katie Ortiz has been teaching for 18 years and was tired of the testing for which she needed to prepare her students. The Miami Springs Middle School science teacher prefers a more hands-on approach and wanted to give her students an activity they would remember for years to come.

Since 2009, Ortiz has been organizing Art For the Sky projects with her middle school students. The event happens every three years, allowing for a new crop of kids to participate once through their middle school years .The project comes in the form of a field day, and gathers all students to create an image on the ground in the back of the school.

Oregon-based artist, Daniel Dancer started Art For the Sky in 1999 as a nonprofit organization. He learned the ancient art technique of enlarging from scale from crop artist Stan Herd and came up with the idea of using students as the colors to fill up the image.

The day before the event at Miami Springs Middle, he scaled the image to the field and outlines it with small flags. About 100 students assisted Dancer adding features to the 15,000-square-foot design he created with with sand, black mulch and hoses. On the day of the event, Dancer and Ortiz were lifted 110 feet in a crane where Ortiz instructed the kids through a microphone on where they should stand to give the piece color.

This year the project focused on climate change. An hourglass depicted the melting of the icecaps and used water instead of sand as a metaphor to show that the world is running out of time.

Ortiz said that the project educates students on leadership, collaboration, and creativity.

“ I want to help the kids see the bigger picture. It’s not only about testing and treating these kids like numbers,” Ortiz said. “ I want to teach them about what is happening to the world while making their middle school years stand out.

“The kids enjoy it and then when they look at the final picture they like to point themselves out and talk about where they were standing with their friends.”

The unusual rainy weather soaked everyone. Ortiz commented on how climate change was even affecting a climate change project. She wanted to do it in December because the weather is usually better than the summer heat.

Despite the rain, Dancer, Ortiz, volunteers and the students were intent on making this project the most special for the artist.

“ I feel like it is the most important image that I have done in my whole entire career,” Dancer said. “One of the main components of Art For the Sky is helping people develop new components and new relationships with the sky. Which is something we take for granted, the sky being our atmosphere.”

The project takes about a year of planning for the teacher and is volunteer driven, separate task from the six classes she teaches. With the help of donations from the city of Miami Springs, commissioners, fundraising, local businesses and the PTA, Ortiz was able to raise about $4,000 to pay for the artist, materials and to help keep the activity free for all 1,200 students.

Eighth-grader Brittany Garcia remembers filling in a sailfish as part of Art For the Sky when she was in fifth grade at Miami Spring Elementary. The school volunteered to bring children to help fill up the image.

“ I think what we’re doing here to present it is better than doing it with any other animal. It just tells us what kind of problems we are dealing with today. It’s good because the sixth- and seventh-graders get to know about it and they really get to know what’s going on,” said Brittany, 13.

“This was my last chance to do this and I was really happy to help with it. I was here the day before all covered in mulch and sand, but I was glad I was able to help and spend time with my friends.”

For Dancer it’s about bringing awareness to the topic of climate change for children and adults alike.

“As I was telling the kids in the assembly, they are standing in for the future kids of this generation and this planet,” Dancer said. “ They are the ambassadors for all the children on the planet that are going to be dealing with climate change for the rest of their lives and it may cut their life short. That’s how serous it is.”

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To know more

To find out how you can host your own Art For The Sky visit http://artforthesky.com/

To see the video of the students at Miami Springs Middle School click here