June 7, 2024

Schools across Western Mass are feeling the effects of extreme heat in the classroom. UMass Amherst Associate Professor, Climate Artist, and Art for Public Good Founder Carolina Aragón teamed up with Cooler Communities and the Duggan Academy in Springfield to co-create “sWARM,” a participatory art project that aims to raise awareness and helps find solutions to this problem.  

This spring, over 500 Duggan Academy middle school students and their teachers worked together to make hundreds of Origami butterflies, using an educational kit created by Aragón. The kit included Origami folding instructions, daily lessons about climate change, and pre and post activity surveys to reflect on what the students were learning each day. The project also asked students to decorate their butterflies with personal messages about what to do when it’s too hot inside and what the students’ hopes are for the future. For example: 


“Next time there is a heat wave I am going too...”   

“keep my grandmother safe from the heat.”  

“stay in the shade.” 


And “In the future, I hope...”  

“to plant more trees.” 

“it gets less hot.” 

Students then painted each butterfly with a special thermochromic paint that changes color in response to temperature. When temperatures rise above 77 degrees, the paint changes from pink to clear, revealing the personal messages and yellow paper beneath. Aragón’s team of UMass Landscape Architecture students with Art for Public Good assembled the butterflies into a public art installation that acts as a visual thermometer of extreme heat and its health impacts in schools and other buildings. 

Middle School students at the Duggan Academy worked together to make the color changing Origami butterflies
Middle school students at the Duggan Academy followed an educational booklet prepared by the UMass team to create the color-changing Origami butterflies. The booklet also contained daily lessons and activities about climate change; photo by Camilla Novo.
Students used a special thermochromic paint so that the origami butterflies can change color from pink to clear as temperatures rise, revealing personalized messages about extreme heat; photo by Camilla Novo
At the UMass Amherst Design Building, Landscape Architecture students and alumni like Latoya Smith assembled hundreds of Origami butterflies to create the transformative installation; photo by Allyson Fairweather.At the UMass Amherst Design Building, Landscape Architecture students and alumni assembled hundreds of Origami butterflies to create the transformative installation; photo by Allyson Fairweather.
At the UMass Amherst Design Building, Landscape Architecture students and alumni like Latoya Smith assembled hundreds of Origami butterflies to create the transformative installation; photo by Allyson Fairweather.


Earlier this year, Duggan Academy students gained experience making climate art with thermochromic paints when they teamed up with Art for Public Good, UMass, and Cooler Communities for "ThermoQuilts." For six weeks, the students worked with their teachers to create a thermal quilt whose squares measure temperate changes within its environment. Similar to sWARM, ThermoQuilts created an opportunity for students learn how warm environments can impact them. For example, students studied heat islands, environments like parking lots and brick buildings that hold more heat than others.

On Saturday, June 1st, sWARM premiered at the Springfield Science Museum where it will live for the next three months until being moved to the Duggan Academy as a display in the school’s main hallway. As Saturday's visitors interacted with the art installation, they also had the opportunity to participate in quizzes, raffles, and science and art activities held by project collaborators. These engagement activities provided valuable information about how to protect yourself, your home, and your community from rising heat. 

During the event ceremony, Aragón, Cooler Communities Director Uli Nagel, and Duggan Academy Director of Partnerships Mary Kay Brown shared the story behind project sWARM and thanked the many students and teachers who played an integral role in its success.

“All the work really was students and the teachers,” said Aragón, “You opened the doors to us and Cooler Communities and worked with us to make this project happen. It’s heartfelt and we’re all here with good intentions. It’s important to remember there are people who want to do what’s right," said Aragón.

After a round of applause, Aragón, Nagel, and Brown invited several Duggan Academy students in-attendance to introduce themselves and tell visitors what they gained from the experience. One 8th grader shared that he liked being part of sWARM because it was something he could connect with as he feels the heat in our world just about every day.  

Many classrooms at the Duggan Academy lack air conditioning; as a result, rooms can reach as high as 90 degrees on a hot day. Mary Kay Brown recounted that when one middle school class tried to paint the butterflies for the first time, students were astonished to see no pink on their paint brushes. The thermochromic paint immediately turned clear because the classroom was too hot. 

A 7th grader told visitors that being part of sWARM helped her understand how heat affects the planet and why it is so important to take care of the earth for one another. 

sWARM debuted at the Springfield Science Museum on June 1st
sWARM's premiere at the Springfield Science Museum on June 1st gathered project collaborators, students, teachers, administrators, and families from the Duggan Academy, and public visitors. 

Back at Duggan, students and teachers are supporting one another by discovering innovating ways to reduce heat in their classrooms. Mary Seid, a 7th grade science teacher, shared on Saturday that she and her students are measuring their classroom windows so they can order window films that reflect 95% of incoming light. After installing the films, students will collect data on heat gain reduction. If the experiment proves successful, the class plans to bring this solution to other second floor, south-facing classrooms. 

At UMass Amherst, Carolina Aragón is now working with UMass Prof. Ezra Markowitz to study the impact that project sWARM may have on the knowledge and perception of extreme heat by its participating students. Aragón and Markowitz look forward to sharing their results with students and teachers of the Duggan Academy community in the coming months. 

Education is the first step to ensuring our environment and communities do not suffer. Art can be a transformational tool for students to learn about the effects of climate change and advocate for the health and wellbeing of their communities. With its educational kit, the leaders of sWARM believe their project has the potential to be replicated in other schools throughout Western Mass, especially those suffering from extreme heat. 

SWARM will be open at the Springfield Science Museum this summer through August 31st. 


Read about sWARM in the News:




Watch this video to learn more about project sWARM.

Come see sWARM at the Springfield Science Museum on view until late August.