Making the Grade: Boarding school puts students on college path

When it comes to what sets a school apart, Brandon Hall School in Sandy Springs has a list of features that only it can claim. To start, there’s the bucolic 27-acre campus that’s designated as a wildlife preserve sitting on the edge of the Chattahoochee River. Then there’s the individualized attention and small class sizes that accommodate 165 students in grades six through 12. But the most singular characteristic of the 57-year-old school is that students have the option to live on campus.

Named for Atlanta lawyer and legislator Morris Brandon, whose 1920 summer house is part of the campus, the school’s initial mission was to offer intensive, personalized instruction to boys. Over the years it has expanded to included girls as well, and to offer housing to faculty and staff. Academically, it has earned honors as a School of Excellence, introduced Advanced Placement and Honors courses and extended its reach beyond the metro area to attract students from across the U.S. and 20 countries.

“Our main distinction is: We are Atlanta’s boarding school,” said Dean Fusto, who stepped into the role of president and head of school in July. “But the big thing there is we have to dispel the myths about boarding schools. We are a college prep school for students who want to be on that path.”

Students who live on campus have the additional advantage of learning to handle the transition away from home long before they get to college, said Fusto. “By the time you leave a boarding program, you have learned to be independent, accountable and responsible, caring for yourself and your own academics and learning time management and organization. That’s what you’ll encounter in college; no one will be looking over your shoulder making sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to do.”

Having faculty and staff also living on the grounds adds another dimension to the experience, Fusto added. “It’s truly 24/7. You’re always interacting and sitting down to dinner with your classmates who have a variety of perspectives. I live on campus, too, so I eat, work and play with faculty and students all the time. And of our 85 faculty and staff, we have 18 faculty members who live here. That’s a unique model.”

The school’s intimate size for both classes and living arrangements appealed to Fernanda Meagher, who was living in California when she sent her two twin daughters to Brandon Hall three years ago.

“When they were in middle school, we started looking for a different type of school in a different setting,” she said. “We did a lot of research and weren’t necessarily looking for a boarding school. But when we went there, the girls immediately loved the beautiful [campus] and the proximity to the river. I liked the small size. When we talked to teachers, I felt my children would be mentored, not just in the classroom but on sport courts, in weekend community service, in relationships that lasted more than 45 minutes a day. And that’s how it’s been.”

Midtown parent Rick Baker found Brandon Hall after visiting 22 area schools with his 13-year-old son, adopted from Columbia.

“When he came here, he could not speak English, and he went to public schools where he didn’t get the attention he needed,” he said. “At Brandon Hall, there’s such a focus on the individual student, with smaller classes that can handle issues a bigger class can’t. And even though it’s a very small school, they have approximately 60 students from different countries, and that gives him the ability to interact on a diverse scale.”

The Meagher family was so enthused about Brandon Hall that they relocated from the West Coast to Sandy Springs to be closer. Now, all of the four children are there as day students.

“It’s such a special place,” said Meagher. “And yet so few people in Atlanta seem to know about it!”

You can find information about your school, such as test scores, graduation rates and school climate rating at the Ultimate Atlanta School Guide.