The Washington Post

Capitol Heights educator continues decade of specialized teaching for boys

Vermelle Greene of Sacred Life Academy for Boys. Back row: Hezekiah Smith, left, Joshua Thurston, Trenton Dickey and Christopher Hardy. Front row: Elisha Falope, left, Jordan Alexander, Antonio McDonald Jr. and Giovanni Madrigal. (Greg Dohler/The Gazette)

When principal Vermelle Greene retired early last year and left the Capitol Heights school she founded, she never expected a quarter of the Christian private school’s 12-student population to leave the school, too.

Since her return in December, the 35-year teaching veteran has focused on bringing students back to Sacred Life Academy for Boys.

“I missed the boys,” said Greene, 61, of Marbury. “I came back for them.”

Greene founded the K-8 school in 2002 at New Life Worship Center in Capitol Heights to cater to the idea that boys and girls learn differently. She said she learned that during her years as a teacher and administrator in Prince George’s.

“All through my teaching career, I kept seeing our boys failing,” Greene said.“They were at the top of suspensions and the bottom of test scores.”

Although the vision for Sacred Life came from New Life Pastor Sullivan McGraw, Greene pushed for making it all boys because of the lack of boys-only primary education in Prince George’s, McGraw said.

The county has two other all-boys private schools, both for high school students, according to the state Department of Education.

“It turned out remarkably well,” McGraw said. “The key to realizing a vision is the person behind it.”

Parents and students have responded to Greene’s focus, with many attributing their sons’ interest in learning to Greene.

“You know she has time for you as a parent,” said Nancy Garbla of Capitol Heights, whose son, Giovanni Madrigal, a fifth-grader, has attended Sacred Life since kindergarten. “You can call Mrs. Greene at home at 10 p.m., and she will take your call.”

She said Sacred Life’s practice of only awarding letter grades to scores above 79 percent encourages students to keep trying if they don’t receive an A or B.

“My son is achieving everything I’d want from him,” Garbla said. “He’s above the kids in the public school because Sacred Life dedicates itself to the kids.”

Greene said boys are more visual learners than auditory learners, so Sacred Life’s four teachers use movement, skits, role play and graphic organizers to keep students interested, and they talk loudly to hold the boys’ attention.

Sacred Life, which has a tuition of $5,900 per year, is equipped for up to 24 students, allowing each to also receive some one-on-one instruction, Greene said.

Michael Watson, 14, of Upper Marlboro attended every grade of Sacred Life and now is at Lanham Christian School. He said Sacred Life and Greene gave him the confidence that if he faltered, he had the chance to try again to succeed.

Still, Greene views her role as a mixed blessing, as the parents’ love for her makes it almost impossible to leave, she said. When Greene retired, the school’s enrollment fell to nine from 12. It has increased to 10 since her return, she said.

The school’s size also is limited by parking space. Greene longs for a chance to expand at a new location once she gets enrollment back up, she said.

Greene said she is working with the business community to find ways to open the school to other students through financial support.

“She has a passion for the school and the boys,” said Michael’s mother, Shelly Watson. “She brings so much laughter and discipline to their education.”


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