Backside Learning Center ‘Not Just Tutoring’

Liam O'Brien, Staff Reporter

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From Backside Learning Center’s adult-education program to after-school youth programs, helping people is what it is all about.

Ms. Mariah Garcia, the family resource coordinator at Backside Learning Center, talked to Spanish classes at Trinity about the center.

Backside Learning Center is an independent non-profit organization that serves the workers and families at Churchill Downs. 

I love it and I have built a relationship with these kids. It is not just tutoring. I am trying to give them opportunities in the world. I am very comfortable with these kids; they also make me laugh and make my day.”

— Trinity senior Chris Gray

Garcia said, “We rely on fundraisers and donations to keep working. Our goal is to build a community and enrich the lives of equine workers and families by providing emotional opportunities and resources they need to empower themselves and children.”

Backside Learning Center is just across the grandstands at Churchill Downs.  The backside is made up of 47 barns, 1,400 horses and about 1,000 people.

“The workers in the backside are a very diverse and hardworking population who work seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Garcia said.

These workers take care of the horses, exercise them, walk them, cool them down, groom them, take care of the equipment and mop the stables.

photo by Liam O’Brien

Backside Learning Center operates evenings from 5:30-7:15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The center provides homework help and a multi-faceted after-school program.  “We want to offer academic support and assistance with positive social development to children of backside workers and our surrounding neighborhood,” Garcia said. “Backside Learning Center wants to facilitate involvement of parents in their child’s education and social and emotional development.

Adults can take English classes at the same time their kids are getting help with homework.

To become a volunteer, a person must first fill out a volunteer application on Backside Learning Center’s website (  Backside Learning Center will then contact volunteers for an orientation and tour of the center and the barns.

High school juniors and seniors are allowed to volunteer, with some exceptions for sophomores.

“We are looking for mature volunteers,” Garcia said. “We would rather have a smaller group of dedicated volunteers, than a large group of not dedicated volunteers.”

Volunteers are expected to tutor individuals or small groups of students.

“To be a volunteer, you must be a positive role model and practice kindness and respectfulness — and encourage students to do the same. The majority of high school students volunteer at the after-school program.  Backside Learning Center also offers classes for adults.  We offer three levels of English classes, and have guitar and technology classes,” Garcia said.

Some adults also study to become citizens.

“If you have a special talent in these subjects, we would love to have you,” Garcia said.  “If you are a guitar player, really good at chess, have a particular skill or hobby, we are always looking for people to come in and give presentations. We want volunteers to lead fun and engaging activities with the kids.”

There is a good bit of flexibility with volunteer involvement.

Garcia said, “We ask for a three-month commitment. You don’t have to come two times a week; most people just choose a day.  We need steady volunteers to help with homework, but are open to work with fun workshop ideas. Volunteers should come early to help with setup, if not stay a bit after to help break down.

“We are very active in pushing literacy. As a volunteer, it is a must to encourage reading.  Backside Learning Center discourages the use of cellphones.  If you are sick or cannot come for some reason, tell me in advance.”

Those who want more information should contact Ms. Maria Martín, a Trinity world languages teacher, Chris Gray, a current Trinity senior, or Garcia.

Martín is willing to help Trinity students take part. She said, “I want to become involved. If interested, come in advising or after school. If we can get a small number of kids to volunteer, I am more than welcome to drive them to Backside Learning Center.”

Gray goes on Thursdays to Backside Learning Center.

“I teach two to three fourth- to fifth-graders with any homework they received, math and a lot of reading,” Gray said.

It takes Gray about 30-40 minutes to get to Backside Learning Center.

“I have been volunteering since my second semester of junior year,” Gray said. “I love it and I have built a relationship with these kids. It is not just tutoring. I am trying to give them opportunities in the world.  I am very comfortable with these kids; they also make me laugh and make my day.”