PELHAM — As the doors of Pelham High School prepare to close for summer break, Athletic Director Judy Metz will take one final look at the place she has called home for 22 years as she prepares to embark on a new, exciting adventure — teaching in Maracaibo, Venezuela.
“It has been a lifelong dream,” she said. “I remember in college (at Plymouth State), some of the upper classmen went to Australia to teach and I thought that was so cool.”
Metz, however, did not travel to exotic lands out of college. She married, had three children and settled into life in her hometown of Chelmsford.
She came to Pelham High 22 years ago and over that tenure has taught physical education and health, coached softball and field hockey, leading the field hockey team to its first playoff berth in 1988.
Metz stepped into the AD position five years ago and has seen her department purchase snowshoes, implement boys and girls lacrosse teams, bring back the freshmen boys basketball program and emphasize the importance of good sportsmanship.
“I think I have really improved communication here by always being in the building and accessible,” she said. “We have worked very hard with both the coaches and athletes to be fair and respectful to other teams and to each other.”
While traveling to Switzerland with her mother a couple of years ago, Metz struck up a conversation with a fellow traveler during a layover at London’s Heathrow Airport. The woman, a fellow American, explained that she was headed back to her job — teaching in Casablanca.
“I’m a teacher, too!” blurted out the excited Metz.
Her new friend told her about International Schools Services, a nonprofit organization that recruits teachers for American International Schools in 250 countries worldwide.
Metz filed the information away in the back of her mind, enjoyed her vacation, and headed back to Pelham High.
The dream of teaching in a foreign land had been rekindled.
She spoke to former PHS teacher Lisa Moore, who had taught in Honduras and encouraged Metz to follow her dream.
With all of her children out of college, the youngest, 22-year-old Annie recently married, the divorced Metz knew her the time had come for her big adventure.
At the ISS recruitment center in Boston, she applied for several jobs all over the world. Schools in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Laos all expressed interest, but none of them felt right to her.
“The Saudi school was right up my alley,” she recalled. “I was going to be able to develop the entire curriculum and start the physical education program, but I just couldn’t see myself there as a single female, having to wear a burqa and not allowed to drive a car.”
The official from the Laotian school boasted about his country’s low violent crime rate, then added that all of the teachers are required to hire an armed guard to stay in their homes during the day.
For Metz, the decision came down to Venezuela or Bangladesh. The deciding factor was that the Bangladeshi school was an elementary school, not her cup of tea.
So, Venezuela it is.
“I know exactly what I am doing,” she said. “I will be teaching two classes and will be the athletic director, just like here.”
At the American International School in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city, just 25 miles from the island of Aruba, Metz will teach in English, but plans on learning Spanish to get the most out of her experience and assimilate into the culture.
The school enrolls 330 students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12, with 150 of those students at the high-school level. One-third of the students are U.S. citizens, one-third are locals and the remaining third hail from all over the world, mostly children of those working in Venezuela’s booming oil industry.
The job comes with a fully furnished apartment, just a 15-minute walk from campus and a yearly flight back to the states.
She has signed a two-year contract.
“I figure that even if I hate it, which I won’t, I can handle two school years, easily,” she said. “Everything happens for a reason and this is where I am meant to be in this time of my life.”
Already looking ahead to the future, Metz said she would like to get a shot to teach in Greece, a country she fell in love with while traveling several years ago.
“I have about 10 more years of teaching left in me, so who knows where I’ll end up next, I’m always up for a big adventure,” Metz grinned.
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