Born and raised in White Plains, I made my way through the White Plains School District from Church Street Elementary School to Eastview Middle School to White Plains High School. These schools and the teachers and administrators within them believed in me, supported me and gave me the opportunities that have made me the person I am today. And I want to pay it forward to today’s students, by being the next member of the White Plains Board of Education.
As a young, Gen Z woman of color, and a recent graduate of the district, I am the candidate that is most representative of our schools and will bring a new and much-needed perspective to the Board, and a more direct connection to the people it serves – our students. With the perspective of my own recent experience in our schools as well as close relationships I have with families still going through the White Plains school system and the teachers that shape our classrooms, I have a unique understanding of what the schools, the Board and the community can do to help our students excel.
My time at White Plains schools was filled with so many positive experiences and since leaving I have tried to give back and provide current students with the wonderful learning opportunities I had. Through my work with the Global Ambassadors clubs, Westchester Model United Nations and starting the “It’s Her Time” scholarship, I’ve helped students foster leadership skills, international perspectives and broaden their outlooks for the future…but I know I can do more. I want to be the Board member that the elementary, middle and high school students know: someone that brings their voice to the table along with their parents’ and encourages them to aim high.
The White Plains School District has spent more than $7 million this school year on improvements to reopen our schools. While the district has made great strides in these improvements, there is potential to do more. At this moment, our district is fortunate to have a $9 million opportunity to invest in our school district and our students as a result of the American Rescue Plan. As your next Board member, I pledge to work to ensure that we will remember 2021 not as a year of COVID-19, but as a year of opportunity – one that our school district and community grew stronger and smarter from.
There is no denying that everyone has dealt with an incredibly challenging year – teachers, parents and especially students. Between coping with the impacts of COVID-19 on family, social interactions and grades; the trauma of escalating racial tensions and violence across the country; and the typical challenges of growing up, our kids have a lot to deal with.
As a member of the Board of Education, I would actively advocate for our students’ mental health needs by hiring more counselors and mental health professionals to help our students gain valuable problem-solving tools and emotional education. I will also advocate for increased visibility of these services for students of all ages so that they are confident that there is someone to reach out to in a time of need – someone who will support them in dealing with their individual challenges in a healthy, productive way. I want to ensure that students have access to trained and trustworthy adults as they move forward from the challenges that 2020 brought and begin their school year knowing that their mental health is our priority.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also taught us that it is possible to learn and engage with classes remotely, although remote learning is not ideal for all. However, as we transition back to fully in person courses and begin to resume normalcy in schools, we should not be so quick to throw away the digital infrastructure that we have relied on throughout this past year. Students’ ability to transition between classroom learning and participating from home can provide the opportunity for them to be successful even when illness or other extenuating circumstances keep them from a perfect attendance record, without creating additional effort for teachers. By continuing to offer after school activities and tutoring via Zoom meetings in addition to in person, we can ensure that students who cannot afford to stay after school still have access to these resources for success. As a member of the Board of Education, I want to ensure that all students are equipped with the tools to work from home in a way that helps them succeed. One of the first actions I would like to take before the end of the 2020-2021 school year is to hear directly from parents, students, and teachers in order to gauge what went right and what went wrong with their online education. I believe it is imperative to understand what students benefited from and what they struggled with so that we can learn from this past year and plan accordingly for the future.
I also propose that we invest in dedicated literacy counselors for our elementary school students. For students who are learning English as a second language or struggle with dyslexia and other learning difficulties, having dedicated time to work on boosting English language, reading and writing skills can be invaluable. Students are set on a path to their high school Honors and AP classes at a very young age, so students who struggle in elementary school often get left out of the programs they can and should be in down the line. Literacy tutors, even virtual ones, can help to bridge that gap to ensure that no child is truly left behind.
White Plains is blessed to have such a diverse district where students can grow into open-minded global citizens. However, as the last year has reminded us, it is important to still invest in every individual student and faculty/Board member’s cultural and racial sensitivity. Diversity training looks vastly different between elementary, middle and high schools teachers, faculty and Board members, but I believe it’s absolutely imperative that all staff and education leaders experience and internalize the benefits of diversity training. Given the diversity of our district and our schools, our educational leadership is required to ensure that everyone in our schools are treated equitably and that our district staff is able to respond effectively and appropriately when we hear that someone is not. Reimagining our approach to cultural sensitivity will go a long way toward combating bullying.
It’s also time for our school’s curriculum to match the diversity of its student body. The books we have students read, or not read, and the history we choose to focus on and teach them, all impact the ways students view the world and their peers. Students should learn, from an early age, to be proud of the color of their skin and the country their families came from and while some students may already know about their heritage, for many of their classmates school is their first and sometimes only introduction to other peoples and cultures. As a member of the Board of Education, I want our schools to provide more options for student reading lists and open their minds to the experiences of others. Our history, English language and current events classes should discuss the achievements, perspectives and great works of African, Latin American and Asian men and women just as much as they teach about Europeans. Our students should be able to identify other cultures’ perspectives and engage with material contextually rather than just through memorization. Students who relate to the material they learn are far more likely to be engaged and perform better.
The White Plains School District has already made sustainability a priority and accomplished a great deal since doing so, such as our introduction of electric school buses – but this is only the first step. As a member of the Board of Education, I would make sustainability a key priority, holding us accountable to follow in Port Chester’s footsteps by decarbonizing our schools’ infrastructure and ensuring that our money is invested in renewable energy sources instead of carbon-heavy ones. I want to work with our schools and ensure that we are on track to becoming carbon neutral within two years and one of New York State’s first carbon zero schools by 2030. By laying the groundwork to evolve existing systems and infrastructure to green-friendly versions at the end of their natural lifetime, we will incur no added capital costs or stranded assets in taking on this green revolution. Not only will the school district save on fuel costs in the long run, but in time we will also be able to sell excess energy back into the grid during the summer months, when energy is consumed sparingly by our schools.
Even more importantly, I want to empower students to make an impact on our strategy during this transition by engaging our science educators, local sustainability clubs and organizations and student groups across the school district to participate in the monitoring, researching and strategizing of how to gradually reduce our emissions. Teaching while applying sustainability practices in schools are proven to reduce absenteeism among students, benefit the health of students and staff and even increase test scores. It will also give students STEM and sustainability educational experiences, critical thinking skills and practical knowledge of a rapidly growing field that they are likely to engage with for the rest of their lives.
Our schools do an excellent job of preparing our students to take the next step into college, but we should not rely on colleges to prepare our students for the rest of their lives – and their careers. White Plains is fortunate to be home to professionals from all walks of life, with our proximity to businesses, startups, research centers, and more just a short train ride away in New York City. I want to work with our local community to expose our students of all ages to the range of career opportunities available to them in the future and the chance to make meaningful connections and relationships with our city’s professional talent that can prove to be invaluable when they are searching for internships and job opportunities.
Our high schoolers should have the opportunity to take advantage of practical experiences that put them one step ahead of their peers when we send them to college. I want to work with our high schools to provide the opportunity for students to learn real-world skills like interviewing, resume-perfecting and networking. Keeping in mind that college is not for everyone, this program will also provide students who are passionate about developing vocational skills the opportunity to network with our community and connect them to apprenticeships and internships.
Moreover, our elementary and middle schoolers deserve the opportunity to hear from and look up to community members with exciting and inspiring career paths so they can know from a young age and that these accomplishments are possible for them too.
My connections with the White Plains professional community have helped me pursue many of my early opportunities, and my eventual internship at the United Nations as a high school senior was one the most impactful experiences of my life. When I got to college, my resume stood out from my peers’ and gave me a leg up in attaining whatever position I pursued. Were I to be the next Board of Education member, I want to give all White Plains students that same opportunity to kick-start their dreams.
2019-2021: I returned to White Plains after four years completing my undergraduate degree in Boston and abroad. I returned to work as a Marketing Analyst at Mastercard in nearby Purchase, NY and to resume my local impact.
2010-2015: I served as Vice President of my class for all four of my years at WPHS and served as President of the Mayor’s Youth Council.
Over the course of middle and high school, I was the President of Global Ambassadors, one of the largest service organizations in the White Plains schools and co-founded Global Ambassador INTERACT and REACT News over the course of middle and high school, engaging over 200 students over the years to learn about global issues, create positive news segments and participate in local and global service projects. Together, we raised over $2,000 to build fresh water facilities for a girls’ school in Nyanza, Kenya. I also ran Global Ambassadors programming in every single White Plains school, engaging students K-12 in Global Ambassadors art-service projects that supported philanthropy efforts like girls’ education, natural disaster relief and fresh water all over the world. We also volunteered at the local Ronald McDonald House, cooking meals for children with cancer and their families.
Raina was born and raised in White Plains by immigrant parents who own a local small business and work at the White Plains Youth Bureau. She grew up immersed in youth programming thanks to her mother and the Youth Bureau, and developed a passion for leadership and Indian food, thanks to her father. She holds a degree in International Relations with a concentration in Security Studies from Boston University and is currently pursuing her MBA at Johns Hopkins University, concentrating in Leadership and Innovation. She works as a Marketing Analyst at Mastercard, is the CEO of a nonprofit called Urban Refuge and serves on the Board of Directors of the United Nations Association of Westchester. She is the author of two books: “The Voice of Thunder” and “Ignite Your Story.” She has been recognized for her work by the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, the Walt Disney Company, Claes Nobel, the Clinton Foundation, Mastercard and others. An explorer at heart, she has traveled to 33 countries in the last 6 years and in her free time, you can find her lost in a good book or on a new hiking trail.
Angelica Duque, Campaign Director
Angelica Duque attended White Plains Public Schools and met Raina through student government and public service engagements. She studied political science at the University of Miami, where she balanced working on several successful campaigns. Angelica currently lives in Washington, DC and works for a New York Member of Congress. As a first-generation American from a working class background, Angelica is excited to campaign for a candidate who will put students’ needs first – especially those like her who are often overlooked in our majority-minority school district.
Catherine Reynolds, Communications Director
Catherine Reynolds attended White Plains Public Schools and met Raina through mutual friends and her public service work. She studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics and Northeastern University in Boston and has previously worked in communications and marketing. Catherine currently lives in White Plains working with the New York State Contact Tracing Initiative. As a young progressive, Catherine is excited to support a candidate working to even the playing field for all students of White Plains and bring a fresh perspective to the issues surrounding the district and our young people.