Goodbye, Cancun. Hello, Lake Wobegon.
The traditional weeklong spring break from school is being shelved for Sartell-St. Stephen students in central Minnesota in favor of a smattering of extended weekends.
Other Minnesota districts also are rethinking the long tradition that has allowed students to escape -- sometimes with their parents, sometimes not -- to sunny and sandy climes for fun or for more altruistic pursuits such as church-sponsored mission trips.
The Monticello School District northwest of the Twin Cities is scrapping its weeklong spring break tradition in favor of a long weekend break April 5-9 this year. In the far north, Roseau has long opted for a similar weekend break timed to coincide with the annual high school hockey tournament in St. Paul. And in Minneapolis, school officials are asking families in an online survey if they want to shorten their winter and spring breaks in favor of starting school later in the fall or ending earlier in the spring.
Sartell-St. Stephen's school board decided to scrap the weeklong spring break after it heard from staff and parent-teacher organizations across the district, which serves 3,200 students. In place of spring break next year, long weekends are scheduled for Feb. 15-18 (Presidents Day weekend), March 29-April 1 (Easter weekend) and April 25-28.
"Spreading out the days off ... can be beneficial to student learning and allows for additional opportunities for staff development days during the school year," the district said in an announcement posted on its website.
This year's spring break -- the last for now --is scheduled for the week of March 25.
Travel agent Lee Hurd, the parent of a Sartell High School senior, annually books large groups of students and their families on weeklong trips during spring break. Hurd is concerned the change will limit opportunities not only for kicking back but for mission work in other parts of the world.
"It wasn't broken, so I don't know why they had to fix it," said Hurd, who is leading a group of 88 to the Dominican Republic this spring break for relaxation with a mission component: helping install basketball poles and backboards for underprivileged kids.
"We're going to go there and put up the netting, bring the basketballs and finish the project," said Hurd, who will be joined by her high school daughter, Molly, and husband Eric.
Pointing to the mission-oriented spring break trip she organized last year to Mexico's Puerto Vallarta, where Sartell students and others served an orphanage, Hurd said such experiences "immerse these kids into other cultures and is a part of education. It really is."
For several years in the past decade, Farmington school district officials experimented with scheduling a weeklong spring break every other year. They eventually returned to the annual weeklong break.
"Parents wanted spring break back, saying it was important for the kids and the families," said Lori Jensen, executive assistant to the superintendent.
During the years when there was no spring break, some families decided to pull their children out of school to go on vacation anyway, said Steven Geis, principal at North Trail Elementary in Farmington. "That actually causes more disruption to the classroom and interferes with learning," he said.
The weeklong breaks not only offer an opportunity for families to be together but also can be opportunities for creative learning, Geis said. For parents who can afford a vacation, it could be a chance for children to help plan the trip and delve into new languages, learn about different currencies and explore new environments. And sometimes just getting a little R&R is important, he said.
In Roseau, just about as close to the Arctic Circle as you can get in Minnesota, students don't get a full-blown spring break. That district's official "spring break" is March 8-11. That just happens to be when the boys' state high school hockey tournament is scheduled in that southern destination known as St. Paul.
"This goes back for decades," said Roseau Superintendent Larry Guggisberg, who confirmed that his district's spring break is set with hockey in mind.
Also, fewer days off within the school year allows classes in Roseau to wrap up in late May, rather than slipping into June, he said, adding, "We want as much summer as we can get up here."
Staff writer Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482