This year Emily and Mark Lee had six specific reasons to spend time at Brookwood Forest Elementary School—their six (of seven) grandchildren who are all students there at the same time. Their oldest, Ella Lee, graduated from Brookwood Forest in 2018, and next up her brother Miller will graduate this year. Ella and Miller’s sister Sara Wells is a fourth grader just like their cousins Fitz and Chloe Bridgers, whose younger siblings Daniel and Leila are both in kindergarten. We chatted with the Lees about their ties to the school and Emily’s that there that started decades ago.

When did you first “meet” Brookwood Forest?

I (Emily) was I was in the first graduating class at Brookwood Forest, and it opened when I was in sixth grade. My grandkids think it’s funny because my picture is in the hallway. My sixth-grade teacher Ms. McCollum was the strictest teacher I ever had and the best teacher I ever had. It was a contemporary building for the time, a round building with amphitheater that’s still there. I went to Crestline before Brookwood Forest opened and was in the first graduating class at Mountain Brook High School.

What’s it like to be a BWF grandparent?

They call it the “Brookwood Forest family,” and they encourage the grandparents to be there for the Brookwood Forest kids. They acknowledge it takes the whole team to raise those kids, and they want us to come us to come eat lunch and be readers. They encourage grandparents to be there all the time. It’s like a tiny little village tucked away out there.

What memories stand out from over the years?

They always have Grandparents Day, and for Veterans Day they invite all grandparents to participate and the auditorium is packed. They encourage us to come to Field Day too. With so many of our grandkids there, I try to do lunch with each grandchild each semester. You can sit at the table by yourself with them or with the whole class. The sixth-grade play is also fun; our oldest was Dorothy in Wizard of Oz. At the Talent Shows, the kids are so encouraging for their classmates, and that’s a delight to see. Two of our girls have sung solos, and another one did a comedy routine.

What makes the school unique?

I loved my childhood elementary school but I don’t’ remember the feeling of family and community that’s been encouraged at Brookwood Forest, and I think it causes the students to thrive. You will see the decals on the bumpers of the parents driving around. They are encouraged to run laps around the field, and for every 25 miles they get a decal. You’ll see a 25-, 50-, 75- and 100-mile stickers on the bumpers. The children just seem to have total respect for the principal Mr. Pitner not out of fear, but they know they are appreciated and loved for the individual that each child is.

What’s it like for so many of your grandchildren to be there together?

When I have been there at lunch time, having cousins at the same school makes it so special because you pass your cousin in the hall. I have seen them coming and going, and it gives them a real sense of belonging. It also gives them a sense of a community with all Brookwood Forest students. It’s like being in the same summer camp with a special atmosphere they have created there.