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‘MEA weekend’ tradition: a break for students and their families

By Maja Beckstrom

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Jennifer Gorder packed up her two kids Wednesday morning and headed to a Wisconsin Dells water park.

“To get a midweek rate, how often do you have that opportunity?” the Bloomington mom said. “I would never take kids out of school to go to the Dells, but we have Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off. So I was like, ‘Let’s do it!’ My kids are super-excited.”

Like many Minnesota families with school-age children, Gorder is heading out of town while schools are closed statewide for the Education Minnesota Professional Conference, the annual two days of workshops organized by the teachers union. Even many private schools, such as Nativity of Mary in Bloomington, where Gorder’s children are enrolled, don’t hold classes today and Friday. Some districts added Wednesday as a day off.

Most people still call it “MEA weekend,” dating back decades to when the union for public school teachers was called the Minnesota Education Association. By whatever name, the third weekend in October is a Minnesota tradition and a favorite time for travel.

“The beauty of MEA is that kids have time off and we don’t have to be anywhere for a family holiday,” said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota. “So people get out and explore while the weather is still nice.”

Of course, many parents work and their children either stay home, head to school-based child care or attend day camps offered by organizations like the Science Museum of Minnesota. Some families treat it as a staycation and hit local attractions.

But those with the means and inclination hit the road.

“Typically, the week of the education conference tends to be one of the busiest weeks of the year (at the airport),” said Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “It’s the last hurrah for families who want to take a family vacation before the holidays set in.”

Last October, Gorder’s family went to San Francisco for what some Minnesotans have started to call “fall break.” Another year they hit a Brainerd water park. This year, she wanted to bring the kids to Orlando to join her husband on a business trip, but demand drove up the cost of plane tickets. So, she looked for a closer destination.

“I could stay home with my kids and have movie night, but it’s nice to get away because then I don’t have to look at my laundry,” said Gorder, who booked a room at Wilderness Resort for herself and her children, ages 8 and 10. “It’s like a little break for mommy, too.”

She’s not the only Minnesotan crossing the border for the break.

“What we notice is in the parking lot is that the license plates turn from Wisconsin, Illinois and a little Minnesota to 50 percent Minnesota,” said Wilderness Resort general manager Joe Eck. Minnesotans make up less than 10 percent of reservations on other October weekends but half of the reservations for this weekend. “That’s over 500 rooms of Minnesotans,” Eck said. “We’ll have the Minnesota Vikings games and Gopher games on all the TVs in the bars.”

Other families decide to explore Minnesota. Michelle Riehle and Jonathan Marchant of St. Paul are bringing bicycles and their two elementary school age children to Lanesboro, where they’ll visit Forestville Mystery Cave State Park and pedal the 60-mile Root River Trail.

“It’s either shell out a couple hundred dollars to Discovery Club (school-based child care) or stay home with them or go somewhere with them,” Riehle said.

“I think there is this psychological thing, once you’re six to eight weeks into school, everybody needs a break.”