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National Adult Literacy Database

Hastings Racecourse - Vancouver, British Columbia: Case Study [Video]

Horse racing is a unique industry, with many specialized jobs not found in any other workplace. But extraordinary equine aptitude still needs a strong foundation in essential skills. And thanks to the Learning Centre at Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver, B.C., that's exactly what they’re getting.

The Hastings Park Learning Centre (HPLC) is the pride and preoccupation of Jeannie Spence, former jockey, current horse owner/ trainer, and a director of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA). Jeannie tutored employees for more than 30 years and played a crucial role in launching the project in 2002. In fact, it is because of her on-track advocacy for learning that Jeannie was recognized by ABC Life Literacy Canada as the recipient of the 2011 Dr. Alan Middleton Workplace Literacy and Learning Award.

The Learning Centre is open to both backstretch (behind the scenes) and front-facing employees. But the backstretch is where the real horse-pros work, and that’s where the centre draws most of its students from—over 100 last year.

Individual Success Stories

That includes grooms like Holly Murray, who is using the centre to pursue her GED (general education development) accreditation. And for Holly, the literacy skills she’s acquiring have brought an unexpected reward—increased confidence. The benefits of this are both professional and personal.

Horse owner and trainer Malcolm Beveridge is also very happy with the programming at the Learning Centre. The horses Malcolm owns are very expensive, and he is confident that employees who attend the programs build stronger communication skills, which is vital to the safety of both the employees and his valuable horses.

Frank Fuentes, a jockey at Hastings, is one of the fastest riders on the racecourse. Frank, originally from Mexico, found that his ESL issues were slowing him down - not on the track, but with the owners and trainers who communicate instructions about their horse before a race.

Even the senior steward at Hastings has leveraged the Learning Centre to improve his own on-the-job performance. Wayne Russell is the final arbiter of all disputes at the track. As such, he must ensure that both parties understand why and how a decision was rendered. With so much money at stake, there’s simply no room for blurred communication.

Groom School

The Learning Centre also affords staff an opportunity to access another new on-site learning venture: the Hastings Racecourse Groom School. It’s an intensive two-week program with both hands-on and theoretical training, but it requires a strong foundation in essential skills to succeed. Participants learn how to properly care for and groom thoroughbred horses. Once accredited, a groom can ply their trade almost anywhere in North America.

How The Learning Centre Got Started

The Hastings Park Learning Centre got its start in 2000 when the HBPA got in contact with Capilano University’s Community Development and Outreach Deptarment (CDO), and highlighted the need for literacy instruction at Hastings Racecourse. In 2001-02 the National Literacy Secretariat (NLS) provided grants for a literacy needs assessment. This led to the Learning Centre pilot project, “Racing to Literacy: Development and Pilot of Racetrack Workers Learning Centre”. Jeannie Spence was elected as an HBPA director in 2001 and given the job of running the Learning Centre. This is a voluntary, unpaid position. Two subsequent projects, “Racing to Literacy: the Homestretch” in 2003-04 and “Racing to Literacy: the Winner’s Circle” in 2004-05, expanded the outreach to workers on the “front side” or service sector at Hastings Park. These programs also received NLS grants.

How The Program Works

The model is one developed by the CDO department at Capilano University and workplace partners, notably in the healthcare and pulp and paper sectors. It is a learner-centred model which begins by identifying “program champions” and “peer tutors” (in this case Jeannie Spence) and developing resources and curriculum to meet the needs of learners. The goal was to provide an opportunity for working people to learn how to learn again via peers who are life-long learners themselves.

It was also essential to connect the workers to the post-secondary system, and to offer the expertise and resources that are available from public education. In this model, learners receive the best of both approaches: the use of workplace instructors from Capilano University and peer tutors: co-workers and backstretch community members who are recruited, trained and supported to work one-on-one or in small groups. The Learning Centre currently has six tutors: three have previous teaching experience in public schools, two are artists, and the other tutor speaks six languages.

The Learning Centre offers a GED (Grade 12 equivalency) program and a new ABE (Adult Basic Education) program plus courses in English as a Second Language, art, yoga and first-aid (important for their workplace). Many students of the centre have gone on to attend university or trade schools.

In addition to jockeys and grooms, the Learning Centre also caters to hot walkers, exercise riders, blacksmiths, various front-side people like tellers and hospitality staff, and workers from the Pacific National Exhibition, where the track is located. Their children are also welcome to attend.

The Hastings Park Learning Centre is open seven days a week from noon until 10 p.m.; off-hour instruction is an option if a tutor is available.


Original funding for the project came from Capilano University (through university-based funding and the NLS grants), Hastings Entertainment Inc. (HEI), and the HBPA. Currently, the Learning Centre is funded through the Community Adult Literacy Program (CALP), a provincial government program that provides approximately $30,000 annually. HEI and the HBPA collectively contribute $20,000, plus space and equipment for the Learning Centre.

Employees access the Learning Centre on their own time and are not paid. However, a small amount is paid ($10.00/hr.) to tutors through the HBPA.

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This project is funded by the Government of Canada’s
Office of Literacy and Essential Skills.