Those who have worked with Behr describe him as a modern-day Fred Rogers — and he is truly humbled by this comparison. "One of my personal heroes is Fred Rogers,” says Behr. “As the original digital innovator, he was able to find appropriate uses for the ‘new’ media of television for enhanced learning, which is what we strive to do with today’s new digital mediums.” As the executive director of The Grable Foundation — a Pittsburgh-based foundation dedicated to improving the lives of children — Behr is dedicated not only professionally but also personally to Fred Rogers’ admonition to put kids first.
He has served as a catalyst, visionary and mentor who redefined the role of technology in formal and informal student education, positively impacting the direction and success of several regional education initiatives. His support for Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s (AIU) Center for Creativity and the transformED space has given educators throughout the region the opportunity to gather, learn, share and transform their teaching. As a direct result, children — and ultimately the next generation of leaders — will benefit from enhanced instruction, technology and creative curriculum design.
Behr was also instrumental in leading the charge to create the Kids+Creativity Network — now called the Remake Learning Network — possessing the vision and initiative to transform what began as an informal discussion among a handful of people to a network of more than 200 organizations, museums, libraries, after-school programs, community centers, higher education institutions, education technology companies and philanthropies. Professionals from these organizations, including roboticists and civic leaders, are now working together to remake learning for the 21st century in Pittsburgh, West Virginia and beyond. Thanks to Behr’s effort to assist schools in building capacity to prepare students for the 21st century, AIU’s Center for Creativity distributed nearly $4 million in grants to 60 school districts in Western Pennsylvania to create and support science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) programs. Behr also worked with Common Sense Media — the nation’s premier nonprofit organization dedicated to education and advocacy to promote safe technology and media for children — to designate a Pittsburgh-based regional manager. This manager collaborates with school districts, after-school programs and early childhood education programs throughout southwestern Pennsylvania to foster the digital literacy and citizenship skills students need to thrive in today’s world.
All of this work would be impressive by itself; however, the demonstrated impact on improving outcomes for children is what makes these efforts truly special. Numerous testimonials, qualitative data and recently collected quantitative data attest to the impact of the work on increased student engagement and motivation, improved academic performance, and decreased absenteeism and dropout rates. One testimonial, from Bart Rocco, Ed.D., superintendent of schools for Elizabeth Forward School District, sheds some light on these outcomes:
"Our district had a troublesome student dropout rate; student engagement was lower than we would have liked; standardized test scores were below state averages; and the learning environments were not engaging. To overcome these challenges, Behr introduced us to thought partners and provided the direction and resources through The Grable Foundation to remake our district into a technology and learning leader. ... Flash forward and our standardized test scores are on the rise, the dropout rate is down, and students are excited about coming to school to learn in a progressive, technologically innovative school district."
Some of Behr’s other achievements include winning the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award in recognition of the Remake Learning Network and forging deep alliances with PBS, the Smithsonian, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the New America Foundation and Sesame Workshop. In collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University and other Pittsburghbased organizations and companies, Behr has traveled numerous times to the White House to represent national interests to support gaming, making, and technology-enhanced learning as key tools for future learners. Overall, Behr changed the nature of Pittsburgh’s international brand and reprogrammed the city’s path to improved education. He has been a powerful force in leading a technological revolution in Western Pennsylvania and his passion, dedication and commitment to this mission is evidenced by the thousands of children’s lives he has impacted. His leadership has forever changed how students in the region will use digital tools.