Cynthia Rubenstein (back row, second from left) with staff and summer campers on a campus visit to the Shady Grove Center. Photo courtesy Cynthia Rubenstein.
It can take time to find your niche in the world, even for an organization.
What began in 2003 as a mentoring project under the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for Education eventually morphed into an independent organization concentrating on preparing middle school students for college.
According to Passion for Learning Executive Director Cynthia Rubenstein, the Silver Spring group then launched as a nonprofit 501(c)3 in 2004.
“The original focus was connecting the local and county business community with schools, working on partnerships with them to enrich after-school learning,” she said.
They first launched a homework club at the Georgian Towers, working with volunteer tutors from Silver Spring-based Social and Scientific Systems Inc. The idea was to expose the students to professions and applied learning through fairs and other activities at local schools.
“We found out it was extremely difficult to consistently engage business volunteers on a regular basis,” she said. “It worked well for one-time-only events,” such as career fairs.
So Passion for Learning decided to change direction, while continuing to offer after-school programs, digital technology classes and connections to careers.
“We focus on middle-school students because that’s a stage where kids are trying to figure out who they are, and they’re trying to figure out what their real interests are,” Rubenstein said. The primary target is kids who are “under-resourced,” as she put it, those whose parents may not be able to afford to send them to other types of after-school programming, summer camps for digital learning or similar enrichment programs. The group also focuses on those who are under-represented in technology fields. The early exposure leads the students to become more likely to take tech courses in high school.
Passion for Learning also targets the same type of students for the organization’s other area of focus, college readiness. Often these students are (or will be) the first in their family to go to college.
They sponsor go-to-college camps in the summer where participants can attend at the Takoma Park campus of Montgomery College as well as at Argyle Middle School. They also take college tours, meet college admissions counselors, learn about financial aid, do college research projects to find out what Maryland colleges have to offer, and meet college students to hear what it’s like on campus, among other activities.
“We also do workshops with their parents about how to support their children and prepare them in high school to be college-ready,” Rubenstein said, including learning about financing a college education.
Passion for Learning typically works with about 150 students a year at seven middle schools in the area. You can get more information about the group at www.passionforlearning.org.