The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 10, 2013

Pat Seymour retires from After School Discovery

Star Beacon

ASHTABULA — Pat Seymour, co-founder and lifelong champion for equity in education and enrichment programs for children and families throughout Ashtabula County, retires this year as executive director of After School Discovery Inc.

Seymour and three other area advocates started After School Discovery in 1994 and through her leadership tenure, Discovery has provided support to thousands, including students and families with a widely diverse range of qualities and gifts.

Under Seymour’s leadership:

• More than 25,000 students have participated in fun and engaging programs;

• Experts from the community have been recruited to teach, including: scientists, doctors, professional dancers, sculptors, chefs, farmers and more;

• All After School Discovery clubs and classes have integrated real-world, hands-on activity with the underlying academic fundamentals and reinforced growth in areas of responsibility, teamwork, and leadership;

• After School Discovery programs have been certified to meet Oho Department of Education standards and most recently ASD was licensed as a care provider by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, and

• In stride of the work with students, Discovery has received commendations for its programming from the Ohio Environmental Education Fund, the Ohio Arts Council and many more.

Through this time, Seymour aimed not just to keep up with the times, but to innovate and create new pathways for preparation of young people for success in school and in life.

In a retirement celebration, staff, volunteers, and friends presented Seymour with many gestures of thanks, including a handmade quilt fashioned from program t-shirts and sweatshirts over the years. While stepping away from the day-to-day management of After School Discovery, Seymour said she will continue to offer leadership and vision for the area in the years ahead.

Rich Recker, formerly of Portland, Oregon, joins After School Discovery as the new, incoming executive director. He and his wife, Laura (Goble) drove east over Labor Day weekend and have made their home in Erie, Pa., where Laura Recker took the director job at the Office of Social Concern at Gannon University.

Rich Recker is a community and educational innovator, who led community transformational projects in urban areas of Oregon that continue to flourish today.

Recker, Seymour and Linda Coblitz met over the summer and discussed expanding After School Discovery in cost-effective ways that can help to meet the growing need in the area for enrichment programming and educational support.

“I was impressed by the forward-thinking that has been underneath After School Discovery — and more so knowing that the original vision was outlined nearly 20 years ago,” he said. “The country’s leading educational experts are only now coming to the understanding that a learned model that is laced with broad, life-experience oriented and life-changing influences is the true pathway to success in school and later through life. This has been at the core of After School Discovery’s formula for students since the very first days.”

Recker had the luxury of spending time with Seymour to assure a smooth transition in leading the organization.

“I find it an outstanding opportunity to work with people like Pat (Seymour) and Linda (Coblitz) who are full of humility, and are solely focused on helping area kids be successful,” he said. “I’ve always preferred ‘team’ experience — sports, music, community service. And this is a team I wanted to be part of.”

Recker said he was fortunate to have worked on a community development project in a similar school district in Oregon.

“While I was responsible for lining up the stars that led to nationally-renowned progress and growth (Roosevelt High School, Portland, Ore.), it was a broad team of people that were involved and there was a good deal of luck necessary, as well,” he said. “I don't think 'luck' will need to play such a big role here. The entire community is open-minded and welcoming.”

Recker said the key pieces needed to become one of the leading innovators in education and youth development — benefiting area kids and families — is already underway and began well before he arrived in Ashtabula.

“I am not sure everyone realizes how close this community is to doing something very special and attracting the type of positive attention that benefits the entire region,” he said. “Sometimes it takes someone from outside the community to help those who have been closest to it look past the set-backs and recognize the progress, potential and opportunity.

“Yes, there is work to be done. It consists primarily of putting all of the current pieces together into a cohesive whole.”

Recker said the hardest part of all is rebuilding an eroded sense of community pride and self-esteem, brought on by a perception of failure.

“I say 'perception' because we have a habit in this country of measuring our educational institutions by some pretty narrow criteria — test scores,” he said. “We don’t want to ignore academic test scores, but we need to trust our 'gut' and deliver the type of preparation we know to be important.”

In Recker’s opinion, the ‘test scores’ that also need checker are:

1. Is the student emotionally, physically, and socially ‘healthy’?

2. Are there a significant number of positive role models and influences in the student's world?

3. Is the student imaginative, creative, curious, caring, motivated and resourceful?

4. Are there substantial non-school learning opportunities to provide a context and complement to their academic study?

5. Do they understand and appreciate what it means to work — and to work within a diverse team to accomplish shared goals? That is, are they readying to be an active, contributing member of a community?

Recker said schools can’t do all these things. That’s why a more complete community-oriented program needs to be in place to prepare kids for success.

“I think that is a great role for After School Discovery to continue to orchestrate,” he said. “The best thing about this model is that everyone involved benefits from their investment and participation.”