Campers doing "knuckles for buckles" letting the counselor know they have seatbelts buckled

KSS Transportation & Safety Measures


Utilizing the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and surrounding areas, Keystone Science School programs love to take our students and campers off-campus to experience science, adventure, Fun!

This brings up the question of how Keystone Science School manages risk around transporting students and campers in our 15-passenger vans. It is important to also note that all campers 8 years and younger sit in booster seats. The following are the guidelines that all staff are required to have prior to stepping into a van with kids:

  • Be 21 years of age or older
  • Have a minimum of 5 years driving experience, excellent driving record, and valid driver’s license
  • Annually complete 1.5 Hours of online Training
  • Annually complete 2.5 Hours of driving behind the wheel
  • Not have been behind the wheel for more than 8 hours, or have worked more than 15 hours in the past 24-hour period.

What does a van ride actually look like at Keystone Science School? Join me as we take a drive from KSS Campus to the Phoenix Gold Mine – one of our favorite Quest Day trips for Day Campers!

“Pronghorns!,” the counselor announces, “Time to get ready for our trip to the Phoenix Gold Mine! You need to 1. Go to the bathroom, 2. Make sure your water bottle(s), lunch, snacks, and extra layers are in your backpack and 3. Put on sunscreen. Once you’ve completed these three things, come give me a high-five and line up at the door!”

The pronghorn group move around the dining hall getting prepared and excited for their Quest Day. Counselors double check that they have their med kit, student list and access to medical and emergency contact information, lunches, snacks, water, and any other materials required for the day.

In a line of 13 campers sandwiched between 2 counselors, they exit the dining hall and make their way to Van number 16 – their designated van.

One counselor begins to inspect the van while completing an online inspection form. Brake lights working? Check. Nothing under the van? Check. Tires? Check. Windshield and mirrors in good condition? Check. Gas level? Check. In the meantime, campers gather around the side door as the second counselor sets expectations for their drive.

“When we get in the van, we need to fill all the seats. This means four people in the back row and three in each other row. My friends who are 8 years old or younger – that means Mike, Katie, Kyle, Clare, Anna, Michelle, and Ian – you all need to sit in the booster seats placed in the first, second, and third rows. This means let your older friends get in the van first.”

“Who remembers what some expectations are of riding in the van?”

“Knuckles for Buckles!” one camper announces.
“Remind me what that means?”
“We always need to wear our seatbelts! And we put our knuckles in the air to tell you we have them on when you say ‘knucks for bucks!’”
“Great, what else do we need to do?”

“Have our butts in the seat!”
“No screaming or loud singing or games in the van!”
“Hands to ourselves!”

“Awesome. Alright, raise your hand if you need to sit in a booster seat.”
All 7 kids raise their hands.
“Great, I’ll open the door we will load from the back to the front. Make sure you have your backpack in your hand when you get in. If you need help getting your seatbelt on, let me know! I’ll come around and check everyone before we leave.”

The 13 campers fill in the seats and get their seatbelts on. Once they are all settled in, the counselor closes the door and gets in the passenger seat. Their co-counselor is now seated in the driver’s seat, adjusting the mirrors and temperature and making sure they have correct directions set up to the location. They turn on the headlights.

The counselors say, “Knucks for bucks!” and check that all 13 kids have their knuckles in the air and seatbelts on, signaling they are ready to go. Before backing up out of their parking spot, they honk twice to let anyone around know that they’ll be moving. The counselor in the passenger seat – the driving assistant for this trip – sends a message to the programs team: “Van 16 to Phoenix Gold Mine”.

As they drive towards Silverthorne, the driver makes sure they are driving 5 mph under the speed limit. Some campers complain that it is too warm in the back. The driving assistant adjusts the temperature. Once they have been driving for a little while and campers have demonstrated respectful behavior, the driving assistant asks the driver if it is okay to put on some music. The driver agrees. They turn on a playlist with music suggestions made by their campers throughout the week. It plays at a mellow volume, as campers sing along to their favorite songs.

Turning on to the I-70 ramp, the driver checks mirrors to merge onto the highway. They stay in the right lane except to pass, making sure to maintain plenty of distance between themselves, trucks, and other cars. The driver maintains at least a 5-second follow distance, increasing this distance and decreasing speed behind larger CMVs or in highly-trafficked areas.

It starts to rain, so the driver decreases their speed to 10 mph below the speed limit and switches the windshield wipers on. The driving assistant checks the directions and estimated time of arrival.

“We’ll be there in about 25 minutes everyone!”
The driving assistant turns to the driver. “You’ll be getting off at exit 238.”
“Thanks for the heads up!”

They exit the highway and drive up to the Phoenix Gold Mine parking lot. The driving assistant helps the driver find a good parking spot and gives assistance as needed to carefully back the van up into the spot. The driver beeps the horn twice before moving in reverse to make others in the parking lot alert to the van’s motion.

After turning the van off, the driver gives instructions to the campers:

“You may all take off your seatbelts, and gather all of your belongings – your backpacks, lunches, water, and anything else you brought with you for the day.”

“When my co-counselor opens the doors, we will get out of the van with our things and wait with them to the side of the van. This is a parking lot which means there are lots of moving cars. So we need to pay extra attention and be super careful as we move around together.”

The co-counselor opens the van while the driver makes sure the van lights are off and they have their backpack packed up. They put the van key in a safe spot and get out to meet with the rest of the group.

“Who’s ready for an awesome day of panning for gold at the mines!”

A group of Day Campers visiting the Phoenix Gold Mine