MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — While students have the rest of the week off, some Minnesota teachers are going back to the classroom for the annual MEA conference.

This year at the Minnesota Educator Academy at St. Paul’s River Centre, teachers are focused on closing the achievement gap.

MEA workshops have two main themes: increasing racial and social justice and recognizing and helping children with mental illnesses.

This year, the number of workshops on those topics have doubled, and in some cases, tripled.

Leaders with Education Minnesota say the workshops are relevant for today’s teachers, parents and students.

Presentations about mental health increased from five last year to 19 this year.

When it comes to racial and social justice lessons, teachers now have 15 options compared to only seven in 2014.

One of the most popular workshops on Thursday focused on ways to help immigrant students succeed in the classroom.

The room reached fire code capacity and the overwhelming interest led to many being turned away.

The session examined common barriers faced by Minnesota’s immigrant students and provided possible solutions to create a better school environment and improve academic success.

“It’s very hard to figure out how to incorporate English learners into content-area classrooms,” said Madeline Lohman, of The Advocates for Human Rights. “They tend to only pick up the content much later in their academic careers than other students. It takes a lot of resources…so the best practice would be to have tons of resources for teachers, so they know English-learner strategies, and to have extra teachers in the classroom.”

Another change this year has been an emphasis on teaching students who are learning English.

The two day conference continues Friday and classes start at 9 a.m.

Friday’s topics include how domestic violence affects children and student mental health.

The conferences are open to the public. Community members are more than welcome to attend and it’s all free.

There are close to 150 workshops this year, so there’s something for everyone.

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