Editor’s note: Brandon Hall School, Atlanta’s only global boarding and day school, is nestled on a sylvan stretch of 24 acres on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Sandy Springs. With more than 20 countries represented on campus, it has steadily carved out a reputation as a cosmopolitan and inclusive institution, relying on a growing network of international partnerships both for recruiting students and driving their global engagement.
The isolation brought on by the pandemic, then, created a conundrum. On one hand, travel restrictions and consular closures threw up obstacles and left some foreign students stranded.
But for existing enrollees and some local parents looking for a change, according to Brandon Hall President Dean Fusto, the controlled environment of private boarding schools became a refuge.
Coming off 18 months of uncertainty, Brandon Hall just wrapped the latest cohort of its Center for Global Youth Leadership and Entrepreneurship. While not as many participants could join from abroad, Mr. Fusto saw in this year deeper validation of the program’s mission: helping students align their passions with the world’s biggest needs.
Brandon Hall is the sponsor of Global Atlanta’s Education Channel, and for this sponsored article, we caught up with Mr. Fusto to learn how the pandemic has affected international education and what lies ahead for the 6-12 school.
Global Atlanta: How has Brandon Hall fared during the pandemic — you have been keen to establish global partnerships, but how has that worked when travel has been impossible? How did COVID-19 change the way people think about the boarding school environment?
Dean Fusto: The pandemic was particularly impactful on boarding schools with international populations in much the same way we saw higher education affected. The pandemic presented so many challenges including unpredictability and the diurnal battle against external factors such as airspace and Embassy closures that were beyond our control. The most important factor in my efforts to build global partnerships has been to not give up and to continue to talk and plan and hope. Ironically, a positive change during COVID-19 as to how people think about boarding schools was that we were actually seen as safe, protective cocoons and bubbles for our students.
How does Brandon Hall think about leadership differently than other programs that you’ve seen? Why is there such a focus on entrepreneurship, and are the two ideas intentionally linked? Tell us about the pragmatic, problem-solving aspects of your program that set it apart.
First, there is a belief, starting with me, that youth have the power to bring bold, fresh ideas to the table in any conversation about domestic and global challenges. I founded the Center for Global Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurial Studies in 2017 with the intent of bringing together the most brilliant and innovative teens in the world. Our cohorts allow for intensive study and pursuit of a passion. The program is squarely focused on tying together student interest with a purpose of solving a community, national, or global issue. The addition of an entrepreneurial dimension creates a structure around their ideas that could eventually launch a company.
How do you define the idea of “global citizenship,” and why is it so important for you to foster cross-border connections for your students? How do you inculcate a sense of connectedness with the world, even from a place like Brandon Hall that is so isolated physically even in Atlanta — at a time when we have been cut off even from the prospect of study-abroad programs?
Global citizenship starts and end with relationship and cultural understanding. Given that we have a residential component to “school” our students experience the added value of knowing students from across the world. Friendship creates enduring connection. Most importantly, in all of our cross-border connections we seek long-term relationships with countries and their schools, agencies and community development initiatives.
How has the pandemic changed the idea of global engagement and youth leadership? How are students thinking differently about their responsibly to the world amid a health crisis that even for those physically unaffected has had profound psychological implications?
I believe there will be more interest in global education and collaboration post-pandemic than in any other time of our history. The interdependence we have is truly symbiotic and this applies to a unity in addressing issues and challenges in the world.
[pullquote]Often, diversity is defined in limiting terms. Brandon Hall brings students together not only to study but to live.[/pullquote]
How does international education fit in with the prevailing conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion, and how is Brandon Hall addressing the intersection between the two?
International education fits beautifully with any DEI conversations and practices. Often, diversity is defined in limiting terms and a school like Brandon Hall brings together different ages, religions, races, worldviews and political affiliations to not only study together but to live together in community. In addition, our student-led organizations like the Student Leadership and Diversity Council seeks to have representatives from each our countries serving in a leadership role.
Peace and conflict resolution are areas that you have looked into expanding into. Why is that a natural outgrowth from this program? How do you envision Brandon Hall partnering with the international community in Atlanta, particularly diplomats and diasporas, to bring an experiential aspect to this?
It truly is a simple proposition. Peace and conflict resolution skills begin with our youth who later enter the world as adults and professionals working in all fields and disciplines. My hope is that the international community in Atlanta sees this opportunity to partner with Brandon Hall and build engaging and impactful programs with us. The world needs conversations now between our international boarding school and the diplomatic community.