Adam K. Raymond


Behind Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby's Immigrant Grooms Get an Education

The Backside Learning Center offers English tutoring, computer lessons, citizenship and GED classes, tax preparation services, and legal advice.

A few hundred yards south of Churchill Downs' famed twin spires, outside the pomp of the winner's circle and completely removed from the view of Millionaire's Row, sits a squat six-room office with faded green betting windows facing the track. To the uninitiated, it looks like another administration building for horse racing's most famous venue. But to those in the know, it's "a second home," "an opportunity," and a place "full of love."

Officially, it's the Backside Learning Center, "the nation’s only comprehensive educational facility at a racetrack," which for eight years has been operated as a nonprofit by the Kentucky Derby Museum. Executive director Jennifer Hoert says its aim is to "provide education, life skills, and community to backside workers," who care for, work out and help train horses and live in dorms or tack rooms attached to the barns. Because immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala comprise the majority of the worker population, that means offering English tutoring, computer lessons, and citizenship classes. On a deeper level, it means helping transform an often overlooked and overworked group of individuals into a community.

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