Partner Spotlight: Passion 4 Learning

by Lauren Lee, Non-Profit Explorer

The mission of Passion 4 Learning is to help students in low-income communities develop the necessary skills they need to become skilled, productive and responsible citizens as well as allow them to fulfill their aspirations and confidence for their academic future.

Passion 4 Learning (P4L) started in the Silver Spring/lower-Montgomery County area in 2003 as an all-volunteer organization. Its goal is to serve kids that aren’t getting enough academic enrichment opportunities after school. After speaking with educators and administrators, there were gaps in writing and literacy as well as a lack of encouragement for girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Practically a decade ahead of the push for STEM, Passion 4 Learning was engaging high-need and low-income students in these areas.

Cynthia Rubinstein, the Executive Director, was ready to serve local high-need students in after-school enrichment programs. On a panel with the Montgomery County Commission for Women and partnering with Montgomery College it was learned that in high school very few girls were taking tech coursework.

It was around this time P4L began to focus exclusively on the middle school age – to get students excited about STEM so that they can go on to high school with exposure and hopefully, academic interest. “It’s my sweet spot so we wanted to specialize here,” Rubinstein explains, “plus, there are fewer county programs for middle school aged kids compared to those in elementary and high school. After initial support from the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for Education,  seed money from the school system and a grant from Freddie Mac, the program launched. Rubinstein cultivated further funding through sources like local government, individuals, and private foundations. There is also incredible in-kind support from MCPS.

Most of the programs that are run through P4L are down-county and there are also some in mid-county. However, starting in February they will have three middle schools being served in Gaithersburg and Germantown. The expansion is a testament to the program’s success and quality. Counselors and principals help identify kids that normally wouldn’t have an opportunity for this type of extracurricular education and enrichment. One exciting program that is entering its 5th year is the “Go To College” program aimed specifically at middle schoolers. It offers general awareness, campus visits, meetings with admissions officers, and research projects for students. To date, about 100 middle school students have participated in the “Go To College” program.

When asked about why middle school is the target age group, Rubinstein replied, “I’m kind of a cheerleader for adolescents and for that age. I’d like to convey to people how wonderful middle schoolers are to work with. They’re just figuring out who they are. If you can spend time with them and give them opportunities, it can be a remarkable lasting experience as they go into high school.” The MCPS teachers that are hired to work with the students also are able to see how middle schoolers are amazing human beings.

The local community is integral to Passion 4 Learning. They are always looking for volunteers that work in technology and/or digital fields who want to come and talk to kids after school for an hour about their profession. So often, it seems, is that kids lack an awareness of the plethora of job options that are available to them in this day and age. In the past, they’ve had professional photographers, video game designers where the kids got to beta test games and also web developers. The other obvious way to support the organization is to donate funds to helpexpand and enhance their programming.

Lauren Lee is a Silver Spring resident and mom to three amazing little people. She recently stepped down as President of Northwest Branch Pool where she bravely served for six years. Even as a Silver Spring native, Lauren is always impressed by the amazing people she meets doing amazing things here in our community and loves to write about it for Silver Spring Cares.