Safety is Essential
When you send your kids to our camp you put your trust in us. You trust us to keep them both physically and emotionally safe. We take that very seriously. Below is a partial list of our thoughts, philosophies and procedures that help keep our campers and out staff safe.
Our Tool Use Policies Are Detailed and Ever Improving
We think about how kids can us each type of tool in the shop and under what circumstances. The question is always about how we can empower our campers while minimizing risk of injury. Our conclusions vary by tool. For example, after a thorough tool training with the campers we use our cordless drills like many camps use hot-glue guns. There must be an adult supervising, checking setup and gently reminding campers of appropriate use, but it doesn't need to be one-on-one. On the other extreme, we don’t currently allow kids to use the table saw at all, not even under direct one-on-one supervision.
Let's use the Miter Saw as a more thorough example. Everytime a child wants to use the miter saw to cut a piece of wood the procedure looks like this:
The saw is not receiving power by default and cannot be used unless given power. Staff are the only people with permission to give the tool power.
The camper must be trained and approved to use the saw.
Before approaching the saw they must have a clean straight mark on the wood they are cutting.
A staff member must be at the saw to supervise
Once at the saw the camper performs a “Ready Call” asking everyone nearby if they are ready for the cut to be made.
There are two responses to the ready call:
People who feel that something is wrong, either they are not personally ready, or that the person cutting has something set up wrong, they will give a loud, verbal “NO! Not ready” and then they will explain why they think something is not right.
People who feel that they themselves are ready and that the person cutting has a safe setup give a silent thumbs up. The silence helps us hear anyone saying “NO!” and helps everyone around stay mellow and aware while the tool is in use.
The staff member monitoring the cut gives the final thumbs up if everything looks right (wood is marked, everyone has ear and eye protection, hands are in the appropriate spaces etc) and at that time will allow the saw to have power.
The camper utilizes the saw as trained
At anytime the staff member can turn off power to the saw if they feel it is necessary.
Take a peek at our training manuals [link] to get a sense of how much thought goes into teaching our staff about the tools, teaching kids how to use our tools, and teaching our staff to teach kids how to use tools.
The Rule of 3
No one goes anywhere alone. Heck, no one goes in just a pair. Walking to the dining area, headed to the shop, going to see the Directors in the office? We travel in groups of 3 or more at all times. This keeps us safe in a myriad of ways. The most essential being that if someone were to get hurt, one of their walking buddies can stay with them while another goes to get help. This is true of camper groups and camper/staff groups.
Background Checks and Training
Every staff member passes a criminal background check called a LiveScan. It is run by the State of California and the FBI. Staff must also must provide us with several references ranging from professional to personal and we call them all.
Our Staff training is extensive; clocking in at 40 hours of in-person training and several hours of pre-camp reading. Topics range from Mandatory Reporting for Sexual Abuse, to Tool Safety. However at the heart of the training is how we treat the kids with respect, set clear and firm boundaries, and create an an environment conducive to growth and creativity.
A Culture of Risk Analysis
Our Co-Found Katie bring with her a deep love of the NOLS leadership framework
The Conservative Call in The Call
If one motto had to sum up our process, this would be it. It’s a montra among our staff. It means that if even one person on staff thinks we should not do something because it seems dangerous, then we don’t do it. We use the moment to take a breath, analyze the risks, walk through all the reasons someone felt nervous or scared and then make an informed collective decision about next steps.
However, Camp is Dangerous
We build systems and cultures conducive to staying safe and we are proud of our track record (Zero serious tool related injuries). However, there is no way around the fact that our camp is inherently dangerous. There are power tools in the shop, rusty nails in the barn, and gopher holes in the fields. We try our best, and are always improving our systems but simply cannot account for every eventuality. To that end, we request that families self select for their kids abilities and their own comfort levels.
Bumps, scrapes and minor cuts are to be expected. We use raw construction materials and host camp on a working farm. We think a scraped knee will teach our campers more about resilience, grit, and self management than any amount of talking from our staff. To quote the favorite superhero movie butler, Alfred, “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”