Reva Gandhi describes herself as a “let’s-just-try-it type of person.”
The Parkland High School junior learned there was a seat open for a student on the Pennsylvania State Board of Education. She knew the odds of being selected were steep, with many talented students across the state.
In tune with her mantra, she applied, because you never know how something is going to turn out unless you try.
Last month, she began her term.
“Take the leap. See what happens,” said Gandhi, 15, of South Whitehall.
The Lehigh Valley is fortunate to have not just her, but another student on the state board, too. Taiba Sultana, a Northampton Community College student, was named to the board last year.
Sultana is on the Council of Higher Education. Gandhi is on the Council of Basic Education. There are two student members on each council. For the Lehigh Valley to hold half the seats is remarkable.
Student members don’t get to vote, but they have an opportunity to provide input and participate in discussions. Gandhi and Sultana have plenty of ideas.
Sultana wants the student achievement gap reduced, especially for students with special needs. She wants to create more opportunities for families and students to engage with the public education system.
She brings real-world experiences to her position on the board.
She used to own a restaurant and minimart in Phillipsburg, and she won the Democratic primary for a seat on Easton City Council in May. Her oldest son attends NCC and her other children attend high school and elementary school in the Easton Area School District.
“As a mother of children attending public schools and as a former employee of the school district, I’m passionate about school safety and I’m deeply committed to supporting and strengthening the public education system,” said Sultana, 37, who is studying political science at NCC.
She is proud to represent people of color on the board, including as part of the board’s work on the master plan of higher education.
”I’m so excited to be part of the diversity and inclusionary part. I like to give my ideas how it’s important to make our schools diverse and more inclusive.”
Gandhi has similar goals.
She wants to empower the state’s student body to become engaged with the officials who make decisions that affect them.
“Bringing that sort of open communication to kids my age really early kind of ensures that we’re all active citizens and we’re all able to be educated, do our part, go out to vote, know the issues that are on the ballot and all of those sorts of things so we can make positive change,” she said.
Gandhi wants to see the state’s education funding equalized so all students have the support they need to succeed.
“If you don’t start off on the same playing field as everyone else in terms of your education, how can you even begin to compete in the workforce when education is what gets you a good job?” she said.
“It’s a very hard thing to change because it’s systemically rooted in the systems … that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to get changed, even if it’s a difficult change.”
Gandhi is ready for any debate on the issues. She is a member of Parkland’s debate club and has participated in its mock trials program. Outside of school, she participates in science fairs — locally, statewide and internationally.
She’s a leader, running the “Girls Who Code” program at Springhouse and Orefield middle schools to inspire girls to consider computer science and shrink the gender gap in that field.
“We want people who are diverse creating these systems that are really making diverse decisions about our lives,” Gandhi said.
The program, she said, offers a “safe space for girls to experiment without feeling they are being judged, which is something that right now is a problem.”
Gandhi plans to attend college. She is interested in the intersection of scientific research and public policy.
Lehigh Valley students are fortunate to be well-represented on the State Board of Education by Gandhi and Sultana.
Morning Call columnist Paul Muschick can be reached at 610-820-6582 or…