One World Founder Joe Carvin records a Park Avenue Elementary School classroom while they share environmental sustainability ideas with their peers in Mexico in May 2018. One World, a free program that encourages global education and collaboration, has not been permitted to operate at Port Chester Schools despite a 10-year relationship with the district.
File Photo
One World Founder Joe Carvin records a Park Avenue Elementary School classroom while they share environmental sustainability ideas with their peers in Mexico in May 2018. One World, a free program that encourages global education and collaboration, has not been permitted to operate at Port Chester Schools despite a 10-year relationship with the district. File Photo

Gianna Villanova has been accepted into 10 of the 12 universities she’s applied to—so far. She’s still waiting to hear back from the last two.

Her goal is to study nursing.

In large part, the Port Chester High School senior believes her favorable approval rating among the admission boards stems from her comfort and ability to have intellectual conversations with adults about global issues and her aspirations to address them—skills and a mindset she says she developed through the One World program.

However, due to a controversial action facilitated by the Board of Education, there’s a chance the program may not have that type of impact again.

“I think the board made a very big mistake,” Villanova said. “It’s embarrassing, I think they’re not considering what’s best for the students. If they knew the impact One World had on me and my peers, they’d change their minds. It makes me sad to think other students won’t have the same tools I do as they become adults.”

One World started as an afterschool educational enrichment program at the Port Chester School District and over a decade has transcended into a philosophy practiced in nearly every building while expanding to other districts worldwide. The program’s founder, Joe Carvin, says they’re motivated by the notion that students are currently being prepared for a world that won’t exist by the time they graduate due to rapid technological advancements and increased globalization.

With a multifaceted array of tools and methods that incorporates education for both students and teachers, the organization aims to address that by teaching students how to enter the unknown.

In its evolution, One World principles have become embedded in the schools as it’s played a key role in projects and programs revolving around global competency and character education. Recently, one of those initiatives drew the attention of the state, but only after first getting noticed by the United Nations.

At the Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Jan. 21, the district was presented a Champions of Change award by the New York State School Boards Association, acknowledging its achievement in January 2020 of being the first in the U.S. to be named a carbon neutral district by the UN.

Park Avenue Elementary School students and educators were at front and center of that work, spearheading a geography-based service-learning project with One World that involved tracking the district’s carbon footprint and offsetting their emissions by raising money and donating to sustainability projects in developing countries.

Ironically, that night the district was awarded for work done through a free program that has essentially been defunct at Port Chester Schools this year. The name “One World” wasn’t even mentioned during the presentation until board member Lou Russo used his customary comments time to give the organization attribution.

Despite Superintendent Dr. Edward Kliszus’s consistent recommendation, the Board of Education had been holding off on signing a contract with One World this year. And on Thursday night, in a divided decision, they outright voted against the voluntary program.

Several trustees cited COVID-19 as justification, stating the pandemic has caused a series of conundrums in Port Chester, and it’s simply not the right time for such comprehensive programing. However, it also happens to be the year following Carvin’s failed bid for a spot on the school board—challenging board President Tom Corbia and Trustee Anne Capeci for one of their seats in a campaign that, at times, got heated.

The circumstances have not gone over the community’s heads, causing many to speculate whether there was questionable motivation behind the vote.

So, what happened to One World?

What is One World?

Over a decade ago, One World started its first afterschool club at Edison Elementary School. It didn’t take long for the program to catch on at all Port Chester schools, and it has since extended into the classroom and around the world.

There are currently over 120 programs in 10 countries—including Mexico, China and Wales—connecting all the schools to each other. In Port Chester, Carvin estimates a few dozen teachers were directly involved with One World, and over 120 students were enrolled in the afterschool program.

“We have three foundational principles,” Carvin explained. “Global education, character education and service learning.”

In essence, One World aims to promote a global learning community for both teachers and students. Focused on shared issues embodied by the UN’s sustainable development goals, students from across the world learn with and from each other about the differences and similarities of their cultures and collaborate on ways to address the problems and priorities they all face and value.

Similarly, teachers from across the global have access to each other through the program—able to work together and share ideas about how to incorporate innovative lessons about global competence and character education in the classroom.

Due to teacher-based aspirations, Carvin said there has been tremendous growth over the years. Early on, they became ambitious to implement One World in the classroom, as opposed to staying in the bounds of an afterschool club. He discovered a Harvard think tank run by Dr. Fernando Reimers on global competence and joined the board at Character.org as a way to start connecting all the concepts.

After taking dozens of Port Chester teachers and school principals to the conferences and sessions with those affiliations, he organized a One World conference that brought 100 educators and Reimers to Port Chester to collaborate on the global competence mission in 2019.

By ridding of the program now, teachers will not have access to those professional development opportunities.

In collaboration with Harvard, they developed a One World School of Global Competence program that encourages participating schools to align their mission with the Sustainable Development Goals and create a leadership team that crosswalks the curriculum with those principles in an interdisciplinary way. That program inspired Park Avenue’s carbon neutral project and Port Chester High School’s Seal of Global Competency that was launched last year.

“How often do you hear Port Chester and Harvard in the same sentence? Why would you disrespect a program that brought Harvard here consistently?” Carvin said, and later continued: “You know why teachers love this? We were investing in them. Investing in them and their careers. And we’d involved High School students in those experiences. You don’t think those kids are putting that on their resumés?”

Most school districts pay for One World’s services, Carvin said. But he breaks the model for Port Chester, wanting to ensure it’s a free program all kids can pursue if desired.

Through a $45,000 grant from Westchester County and $15,000 from the organization, One World provides all services to Port Chester for free and pays for the teacher involvement.

Diana Berrios, a Park Avenue educator, is one of those instructors who fully embraced the One World program.

“One World enhances education for me,” Berrios said. “It’s brought so many things into our curriculum. Not the basic curriculum, but extensions that add a global element to it. And it really shapes students, teaching them about perspectives and differences and how we communicate with each other.”

Not having access to the organization has been a loss for teachers, she said, especially during COVID-19 when collaboration with other educators would have been useful. Additionally, she would have liked to utilize the new virtual educational programs One World developed specifically for remote learning.

“I think One World changed my life,” said Tommy Ross, a Port Chester High School senior who visited China with the program for a conference his sophomore year. “It’s one of the most impactful components of my education so far. The opportunity and enrichment that comes with it are so drastically different than anything you get in school.

“We’re going from a local world to a global world so fast. COVID is a perfect example. It wasn’t a Chinese issue, it wasn’t an Italian issue, it’s a global issue,” he continued. “It’s about the outlook on our world that it instilled in me.”

Tom Manos, a parent who has had three children involved with One World, said the program has had nothing but a positive influence on his family.

“We always looked for enrichment programs to supplement the education they get in class so they can expand their minds. This program was all about incorporating world views and the ways our kids look at things, it makes them understand ours is not the only viewpoint,” he said. “When you consider that it’s offered for free, I don’t understand why the school board would turn that down. How is it not a good thing?”

Why was One World left behind?

The One World contract agreement—usually approved in July along with other community partnership agreements the financially struggling district benefits from—didn’t make it onto the Board of Education’s agenda until Thursday’s meeting.

Board President Corbia is charged with confirming the agenda, and at previous meetings it was revealed by Russo’s questioning that he had taken One World off the schedule because he wanted to do more research into the longstanding program.

When the agreement was ultimately presented, the board voted it down in a 3-2 decision—with Corbia, Capeci and Vice President Chrissie Onofrio against, and Russo and Trustee Chris Wolff in favor.

Capeci was the first to speak, stating that because COVID-19 has limited students’ time in the classroom, she thinks their focus as an institution must be on academics.

However, there are other non-academic and enrichment programs currently operating at Port Chester Schools, such as musical theater, athletics and other services with community partners like the Carver Center and STEER for Student Athletes.

Concluding her thought, Capeci said she thinks they should wait until a new superintendent is hired in July to relook at the program.

“I feel after doing my due diligence, now is not the time,” Onofrio added in accordance. “With all our students, teachers and administrators are dealing with, I think it’s not reasonable to put something else on their plates right now. In addition to the fact that I think we need to be laser focused on academics. With really only four months of the school year left, it makes sense to continue the pause on this and reassess with our new superintendent in July.”

“I think it’s a shame we would get rid of the program,” Wolff said. “I know there were situations where teachers enjoyed having additional activities, information and aspects of the program. It comes at a very reasonable cost…”

“Zero,” Russo chimed in. “Even in the face of us tonight receiving an award, we’re going to eliminate this. It’s a voluntary program, no one has to participate if they don’t want. It’s an enrichment program, it aligns with our curriculum, character education and all the other tenets. This boggles the mind. I just can’t believe it. Laser focused on curriculum, and we have a program that adds to the curriculum. I don’t understand the logic.”

“As a professional educator, I feel it is a much bigger conversation that needs to happen,” responded Onofrio, who teaches at the neighboring Blind Brook School District. “And I don’t think this is the time for us to have this conversation.”

Carvin, offended by the board making a unilateral decision for district teachers, accused them of questioning the competence of their educators.

“It seems clear to me that this is a massive vote of no confidence in Port Chester educators, Port Chester parents and Port Chester students. They’re basically saying they’re incompetent to make a decision on how and when they want to use One World themselves,” he said. “I know for a fact many of them are chomping at the bit.”

Not only is teacher participation optional, he continued to argue, but he doesn’t deem One World burdensome. It’s intended to co-exist within the curriculum by adding a global element to subjects already being taught. If anything, especially with their new COVID-19 designed programs, he thinks they’re offering a resource that makes teaching this year easier.

Berrios agreed, and backed up Carvin’s claim. Because teachers incorporate One World into already developed units, she said the program enhances rather than transforms content.

“We’re deeply conscious. We know teachers can’t have any more work on their plate,” Carvin said. “But these board members are severing the relationship with Harvard. Severing the relationship with the leading character education group in the U.S. They prohibit it.”

In a later interview, Onofrio expounded on her thoughts. One World isn’t just an afterschool program, it’s an organization that has impacts across entire schools. While the club component may be voluntary, she said it’s no longer optional for students when it’s incorporated into the classroom.

“I just want to be very clear; we did not cancel or eliminate it. It’s something that can be revisited again in July with a new superintendent,” Onofrio said. “I’m not against the One World program itself, I just think it deserves a bigger conversation which we can have in July, when hopefully things are better and we know what to expect.”

However, Carvin said the board’s decision could potentially doom the future availability of One World. Since rejecting the program, he’s had to inform the county because it supplies $45,000 of grant funds to support the Port Chester School District. But if the program isn’t serving Port Chester, he said those funds could be permanently lost.

“My worry is we lose our funding and we won’t be able to work in Port Chester at all,” Carvin said. “Ultimately, if this decision isn’t reversed in the next couple of weeks, there is a high probability of leading to the elimination of the program. They could be risking never getting One World back.”

While Corbia refrained from commenting on his reasoning that night, in a later interview he explained that he voted “no” because he thinks students are already subjected to too much screen time due to remote learning. He’s open to entertaining the program again when school is back in session full time, but first he wants more specifics about “what exactly happens in that classroom.”

In his long career as a superintendent of multiple school districts, Kliszus said he’s never been in this situation before—where a school board rejects an enrichment program he’s thoroughly vetted. Program recommendations only come, he said, after administrators and teachers give their input and the organization’s tax records have been analyzed.

“I reflect the opinion of the district, administration and teachers. It’s innocuous, it’s only a plus,” he said. “It’s a great thing for the kids to put on their resumés. Because when kids apply for colleges now, it’s a resumé. It’s a lot more than SAT scores and class rank, and One World gives them perspective and volunteer work.”

Ultimately, the superintendent’s philosophy is a program—particularly a free program—is just as valuable whether it’s benefitting 10 students or 100.

“Every time you offer an activity, you’re opening the door for another young person to find their passion. It could lead them to a career that makes them want to get out of bed in the morning,” Kliszus said. “This one was zero cost, and I haven’t had a single complaint about it. I only see positives; no negatives.”

Was there political motivation?

Giving One World the veto was entirely on the Board of Education, Kliszus said. He recommended the program because he believes in it.

“I’ve argued for it and they don’t want it. Their reasons are their reasons,” he said. “I wouldn’t have recommended it if it didn’t have value. I like it, my people like, the kids like, everyone supports it except the board. When they reject a superintendent’s recommendation, the public expects them to have a valid reason. I’m sensing people are angry it wasn’t approved, but I have no control over that. I have a feeling they feel like the explanation wasn’t satisfying. Maybe there’s something I don’t know, but people have to draw their own conclusions.”

And many have been public about those conclusions—seemingly unconvinced by the school board’s justification.

“It all makes you question the motive of members who voted against it. It’s unfortunate,” Manos said. “With everything going on, there’s a lot of distractions. I don’t know if some board members are that focused on the children or something else far away from the schools.”

Last year, in a contentious election season, Carvin ran for a seat on the Board of Education, and some can’t help but question whether that sparked the animosity being seen now.

“The program has been in Port Chester for the last 10 years and they’ve never denied it before. It’s not clear why it’s being denied right now,” said parent Amanda Ortiz. “It’s award winning, it sends our teachers and students to Harvard, it’s offering a COVID component that our kids are desperate for. I think this is politically charged. The only thing that has changed for the last 10 years is that the founder ran against current board members.”

Students have been actively advocating for the program as well. Ross created a Change.org petition calling for the school board to consent to the contract. As of Wednesday, Jan. 27, nearly 300 people had signed.

Ortiz is not alone in her suspicions, as several others have gone to social media to rant about the theory. Onofrio refutes that politics had anything to do with her decision making—and said she’s getting frustrated that her motivations are consistently in question.

“I get why people think that way, but appearances aren’t everything,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that it looks that way. For me, it really just goes back to timing. The new superintendent is starting soon, COVID is making everything uncertain, we’ll be in a much better place come July.”

Similarly, Corbia denies that politics had anything to do with his vote.

“I understand people thinking that way, and that’s OK,” he said. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, as the board is entitled to their opinion.”