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Merrill Charter Serves Students StatewideSubmitted: 04/03/2013
Merrill Charter Serves Students Statewide
Story By Lex Gray

MERRILL - As odd as it may sound, hundreds of kids are enrolled in the Merill School District without actually living anywhere near Merrill.

That's the new reality of virtual school.

Bridges Virtual Academy opened this year.

Administrator John Hagemeister expected about 100 kids to enroll. Instead, he got 500 from all over the state.

That's because Hagemeister's idea is unique. Before Bridges, he homeschooled his own kids.

He wanted to combine the freedom of homeschooling with the resources of public school.

The Reimer family of Arbor Vitae made the switch to Bridges this year.

"We do our schooling at home, but we're not technically homeschooling anymore," says Kathy Reimer.

As a homeschooler, Reimer wasn't allowed to take part in public school classes.

But Bridges Virtual Academy gives her more options.

"We did art lessons at the Campanile Center, piano lessons, and dance lessons for the girls," she said. "We probably could've provided one lesson for them, but this allows us to give them opportunities to do things we wouldn't normally be able to do."


John Hagemeister started the academy with more opportunities in mind.

"These are taxpayers and if you homeschool, they don't get anything in return. Some people like it that way, because there's no entanglement, there's no extras," he said. "But if there's a way we can partner, why shouldn't we try? They're taxpayers, they're community members, they're looking for some kind of educational service through us, so let's try and do it."

Taxpayers - including the Reimers - bought a computer for each of her kids. They also share an iPad and have access to teachers.

There is a trade-off for that support. As a homeschooler, Reimer didn't have to evaluate her kids at all. Now, she has to administer school and state tests.

But that doesn't bother her.

"The testing only confirms what I already know," she said. "Because you're homeschooling, you know your kids' strengths and you know your kids' weaknesses."

But beyond the testing, Reimer still gets to do things her way. That's different from most virtual schools.

"A typical virtual school is like taking this and putting it online, the brick and mortar and putting it online, and that's not what they're looking for," Hagemeister said. "They're looking for something that's flexible, time wise, curriculum wise."

"That opens up our ability to do things for our kids, and give them opportunities that we couldn't give them," Reimer said. "So that is a really great thing."

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 IN OTHER NEWS

WISCONSIN RAPIDS - More than three months passed since family and friends have seen a Plover woman.

Krista Sypher, 44, has been missing since March 13.

Since then Plover police have been investigating.

Wednesday that investigation led them to a landfill in Wisconsin Rapids

Plover Police Chief Dan Ault said they've been searching the Cranberry Creek Landfill since Monday. He wouldn't say what they have or have not found. He also couldn't say how or why the investigation led them to this landfill.

Chief Ault said it's possible they might be back to continue the search on Thursday.

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RHINELANDER - Most people don't use an orthodontic office as a mail room.

However, one Rhinelander orthodontist is doing just that.

Dr. Joshua Bruce is helping to organize the "Hope and Healing" thank you card program for wounded veterans. It's run through his newly shared practice with Dr. Darrell Schmidt.

Schmidt first collected and sent cards to injured service members around Christmas last year.

Now, they are doing the same thing for Independence Day.

"[We want to] express our thanks for all they do for us, for the freedoms we enjoy that they sacrificed so much for," said Bruce.

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HAZELHURST - A week and a half ago, the Marathon County Dive Team pulled the body of 41-year-old Dominic Flaminio from the Wisconsin River. He drowned while trying to save his girlfriend's eight-year-old son, who was struggling in the current.

When Greg Bohn saw the story at his home in Hazelhurst, he felt like his heart was ripped out.

"This was so preventable," he remembers thinking.

It also motivated him to keep working on a water safety goal he's been chasing for years.

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FOREST COUNTY - Bringing your pet along to watch fireworks might seem like a fun way to spend the Fourth of July, but you could be doing more harm than good.

July 5th is one of the busiest days of the year for most animal shelters.

That's because fearful pets try to escape the bangs and flashes from fireworks and end up lost.

Forest County Humane Society president Jay Schaefer says don't let yourself add to your pet's stress.

Play it down, and make the fireworks a good thing with positive talk and treats.

"They're reading cues from us constantly. So be careful of your body language and the cues you're giving them. If you act like fireworks are a big scary thing they're gonna be like, 'oh my god fireworks are scary,'" says Schaefer.

Exercise can be another way to calm your pet before the big light show.

Burning off the energy earlier in the day may help your pet go to sleep early.

"Take them for a jog on the Fourth of July. I know it's hectic, but do something so they're not all amped up at night when the fireworks go off," says Schaefer.

Like many humans, pets like the smell of lavender.

You can try diffusing the scent around the house to put your pet at ease.

Make sure you have a well-fitting collar and identification tag on your pet.

If flashes are too bright, you might want to close the curtains.

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WAUSAU - Every year, firefighters around the country ask their communities to fill up boots with money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Wausau Fire Department kicked off its "Fill the Boot" campaign Tuesday morning.

The fire department will be at local events throughout the summer to collect donations.

The fundraiser helps with research and treatment for neuromuscular diseases for kids and adults.

"It's kind of a rewarding part of the job. Most of what we do is off camera, you don't really get to see all aspects of the fire department. It is a great chance for us to get out there and see all the programs we are involved in to help,"says firefighter Matt Tormohlen.

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THREE LAKES - Managing weeds can be a challenge for many cranberry growers across the state.

James Lake Farms in Three Lakes has been certified organic since 2007.

As organic growers, they are not allowed to use synthetic materials or herbicides to control their weeds.
 
This spring, they purchased weed eating geese from a nursery to help get rid of the weeds.

"We came across an article from 1954 in a trade magazine that showed that one of our marshes had used weeder geese back then in order to reduce the weed pressure, and we thought, well, this might be a novel approach," said owner John Stauner. 

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CHETEK, WI - A preliminary report from federal aviation investigators says witnesses described hearing an engine backfire before a small plane crashed in Wisconsin last month, killing the teenage pilot and seriously injuring a passenger.

The Leader-Telegram reports that the National Transportation Safety Board interviewed several witnesses who were fishing in a pond near the Red Cedar River at the time of crash on May 24.

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