Former Sandy Springs resident Michael Friede waxes nostalgic about the years 2011 to 2014 when he attended Brandon Hall School not far from where he lived. “The school was great for me. I needed the structure it provided. All the staff and teachers knew how to work with students who had learning issues. Many kids came in with serious behavioral problems and left as mature adults,” he said.

Former Sandy Springs resident Michael Friede said of his alma mater, Brandon Hall, “Many kids came in with serious behavioral problems and left as mature adults.”

Friede counts himself among those who greatly benefited from attending the private boarding school that announced earlier this year that it was closing its doors, after more than 60 years. A small school that enrolled about 200 students while Friede attended, Brandon Hall served its enrollees partly as a boarding school and partly as a day school. Friede believes that fewer than 50 percent of the students were from abroad, and of those, many were from China.

Of course, during the pandemic international students were stymied from entering the U.S., but Friede believes that only exacerbated an existing problem. “After I graduated, the number of students dropped,” said Friede, now attending graduate school in New England. He believes Brandon Hall was “bleeding money for years.”

When contacted for its explanation for the closure, the school said it had “no other comments at this time.”

Brandon Hall was “never good at giving information,” said Friede. “They still don’t share much information even to alumni.”

The Galloway School

It may be impossible to know exactly where students already enrolled in Brandon Hall, or interested in attending the school, might choose to go instead. The Galloway School, another private school in Sandy Springs, reports “business as usual. We haven’t seen a huge increase in interest, but most of our families are domestic, from either Sandy Springs or Buckhead,” said Meghan Stauts, director of marketing and communications.

Opened in 1969 and located near Chastain Park, The Galloway School has 750 students from pre-K three-year-olds through 12th grade, with about 100 faculty members.

Atlanta International School

Given that a number of Brandon Hall enrollees were international, it could be assumed that at least some might relocate to Atlanta International School, located on North Fulton Drive. Currently, AIS has about 1,300 students from pre-K through 12th grade. According to Emily Hands, director of marketing and communications, “You are right to say that for families with an international background, AIS is a natural choice due to our full International Baccalaureate curriculum, specialized high quality language programs and our inclusive intercultural community.”

Hands emphasized that “it’s important to note that around half of our students’ families are American.” On the other hand, “our community of students, parents and employees represents over 90 countries, with over 60 languages spoken.”

Hands added that AIS offers rolling admissions throughout the year to local and international families. “We understand that people’s circumstances often don’t fit into a rigid school admissions timetable, so whenever possible – where we have space and if a student meets our entry requirements, we will try to accommodate a family’s educational needs. So this could apply to any former Brandon Hall families.”

Other Options

Sandy Springs families interested in top-notch private or public schools don’t have to travel far to find what they need. Within Sandy Springs, there The Epstein School and Davis Academy, both Jewish private schools. Not far out of Sandy Springs, are the private schools of Fulton Science Academy in Alpharetta and Pace Academy and The Westminster Schools in Buckhead.

Along with seven public elementary schools and two public middle schools, there are also two public high schools, both charter schools, in Sandy Springs. North Springs Charter High School on Roswell Road is the only magnet school in the Fulton County School System that offers both arts and sciences. Riverwood International Charter School is one of Fulton County’s four magnet schools, offering international studies and international Baccalaureate programs.

While other both private and public schools in the Atlanta area are open to Sandy Springs’ residents, one could argue there are enough educational options nearby.

Featured image: Linda Walker and daughter Cassie Templeton in front of Cathedral after walking the Camino.

Sandy Springs is home to a variety of intriguing people of all ages and ethnicities, each with their own special story. Linda Walker’s story, however, stands out.

Although born in New York City, the 76-year-old has lived in Sandy Springs for nearly 40 years. Earlier this year, Walker walked, with her daughter, nearly 150 miles in two weeks on the Camino de Santiago – literally the “Way of St. James”. The Camino is considered the path walked by James the Apostle, and is Europe’s ultimate pilgrimage route, over the Pyrenees Mountains.

Walker’s daughter, Cassie Templeton, 53, heard her mother talk about the Camino years ago, and her priest at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church in Sandy Springs had walked part of the Camino. “He planted the seed and the seed kept growing,” recalled Walker. “Then I hadn’t talked about it for awhile and my daughter had friends who walked it.”

Linda Walker exults at her finish.

Last Christmas, Cassie surprised her mother with the trip. “She said, ‘Mom, let’s go on a trip!’ I had no idea how to set it up and I never thought my daughter could take such a trip because she has a family and job, but she arranged the whole thing. She’s a great organizer and director.”

After the arrangements were made, however, Walker was nearly sidelined by a cancer diagnosis. She had surgery but didn’t need radiation. “I realized that with all my daughter had done to arrange the trip, I was walking this for her, not me.”

Looking back, Walker remembered another challenging time in her life. She recalled looking out a window and praying to God. “It cemented my belief that there’s a God that helps you go through whatever you have to.”

Walker took that belief and, with her daughter at her side, walked the challenging path over the Pyrenees. Since the Middle Ages, many pilgrims have walked the hundreds of miles across Spain to pay tribute to the believed remains of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. It’s a difficult route, especially for those who have not participated in a multi-day walk. It is physically demanding to walk an average of about 12 miles a day on one of the shorter paths or even if the hikers limit themselves to walking the last 60 miles to Santiago de Compostela.

Because of their time limitations, Walker and her daughter took one day by train. “There are many routes that lead to the actual beginning of the religious pilgrimage,” she explained. When the pair reached the “massive” Cathedral, they walked into a square. “I stood there and looking around, realized I’ve seen this picture.”

Although exercise wasn’t foreign to Walker, she said, “I had no idea of the steepness” of the Camino path. “I didn’t train a lot on hills, but I kept praying about it,” she said, still sounding proud of the moment when she and her daughter received their certificates at the end of the route. “I realized that I was doing this for my daughter so that she’ll have memories for when I’m not here.”

Walker wasn’t exactly a neophyte when it came to challenging herself physically. “I don’t consider myself a great athlete. I just do stuff and it feels right. My children and grandchildren think that what I’m doing is normal.”

Linda and her daughter along the route

In elementary school, she danced ballet a couple of years, but she considered her siblings more of the athletes in the family. For awhile she played racquetball and then took up running. When she was 50, she ran three marathons. This year, she ran her 33rd Peachtree Road Race. “I ‘shuffle’ jogged down the Peachtree to finish my 33rd. As always, I had fun with the volunteers and audience.” She still has all but one of the T-shirts she won.

Walker also took up cycling and was headed out of town for a cycling race not long after she returned from Spain, with, incidentally, two more T-shirts from Santiago. She liked the cross-training that involves. “It opened up a lot for me.”

After walking the Camino, Walker has realized that she can’t seem to stop walking. Every day she can be found in nearby parks. “I keep meeting wonderful people on my walks in the parks.”

That doesn’t mean Walker is totally oblivious to her age. “My body in the morning reminds me of my chronological age.”

Perhaps still high from her lofty challenge, Walker wistfully speaks of completing the part of the Camino she hadn’t walked. “It’s okay to realize that my daughter wanted to do this with me, and then realize that there’s a hunger for more. I might go by myself. Some people – many older than me – do it on their own. If you don’t have a bad disability, it is doable. You can start anywhere. If I can motivate people by doing the things I do,” it is worth it, said Walker. “Yes, you may slow down and there are health issues, but you can work around those.”

Walker’s motto seems to be: “you have to move so that you can keep moving.”