A welcome banner for Principal Dreves at Upper Nyack Elementary School
By Jamie Jensen
In the second installment of a series on extraordinary teachers who live in our community, I chose third-generation Rye resident and former Rye Middle School teacher Craig Dreves. I sat down with him earlier this month to talk about his exciting new position as Principal of Upper Nyack Elementary School and the journey that got him there.
I first met Craig in 2011 when my son was in his Social Studies class. As an educator, he creates opportunities to bring communities together. At the Middle School, he led Reach Out Rye, a program that introduced students to service opportunities. Many remember when Craig and fellow teacher Charlie Carmen organized Rescue the Rockaways, a massive clean-up effort after Hurricane Sandy. Rye students, parents, and faculty traveled to Queens to dig out homes, clear away the heavy, dirty debris, and deliver supplies. The middle school students that joined the effort saw firsthand what a teacher like Craig is made of.
Before going into teaching, Craig gave into wanderlust and traveled the world. He joined the Peace Corps and worked at a school in Romania. He went to Costa Rica as part of a Fordham University program to learn to speak Spanish and then travelled to Peru to work with street kids through a local organization. In 2005, he returned to Rye, moved into his grandparent’s home, and joined the RMS faculty.
“I traveled for eight years, visited six continents in search of adventure and a sense of fulfillment,” he explained. “During those years I learned so much about the world, and even more about me. And at the end of my journey, I found the true treasure that awaited me was right back here among family and community.”
For Craig, a natural outgrowth of seeing the world, especially those parts of the world in need of assistance, was to find a way to bring groups of local student volunteers to developing countries to serve and teach. So, he founded Voluntravel, a nonprofit program designed to achieve just that. On a Voluntravel trip to the Galapagos Islands in 2012, Craig and his dad were joined by three Rye families, including ours. We experienced the wonders of the Islands’ ecosystem while working for days with a local NGO, cleaning up and painting a municipal playground in a low-income neighborhood beyond most tourists’ itineraries.
In 2014, on the very day his daughter Bella was born, Craig was waiting patiently during his wife’s long labor, when the obstetrician encouraged him to join a Skype interview with the hiring committee at a school in Ossining. He got the job of Assistant Principal at Ann M. Dorner Middle School, a 1,200-student, multi-lingual school, and his successful leadership there led to his recent elevation to principal in Nyack.
To know Craig Dreves is to know that he remains rooted in Rye. He and his daughter live in the same home that his grandparents did, on Milton Road, a short walk from the Rye High/Rye Middle School campus. Craig’s grandfather was the butcher at JD Meat Market, which preceded Crisfield’s. His parents, Kathy and Jim Dreves grew up in Rye, and were high school sweethearts. They raised Craig and his siblings in Port Chester. Craig spent summers lifeguarding at the Rye Golf pool. His sister, Lynn, taught at Midland Elementary until 2005. His dad spent 24 years on the Port Chester School Board, with a few stints as board president, and his mother was secretary to the Port Chester High School principal.
As we wound down our catchup, Craig, shared another fond memory from 2010, when in honor of the 350th anniversary of Rye, the community buried a time capsule six feet below the earth in a spot behind the Square House. Sheri Jordan, Director of the Rye Historical Society, and Craig Dreves spearheaded the project with the enthusiastic support of this paper’s publisher, Robin Jovanovich. What began as a little idea ended up engaging all Rye schools. And, according to Craig, the time capsule/metal box cost $3,000 and was purchased with support from the Rye Teachers Association.
That capsule is set to be opened in in 2060, 50 years after it was lowered into the ground. Many of us won’t be there to celebrate the occasion, but current and future students will.
On October 1 of this year, Craig led his third time capsule project, this time celebrating the 150th anniversary of Upper Nyack Elementary School. He shared a bit of the letter he wrote for the occasion.
“I advised the ‘future me’ to celebrate our school and our children. We do that by building our teachers up.
“I think we should always start with joy. We encourage those around us by putting heart and passion into what we do every day. I know that when I was appreciated, I worked harder. When we celebrate educators and bring joy to the lives of our children, the entire school community rises and succeeds in ways we never imagined.”