Merrill Charter Serves Students StatewideSubmitted: 04/03/2013
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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RHINELANDER - A family-favorite pastime of hitting the movies after Thanksgiving dinner could take a bit of a hit this year.

Rouman Cinema in Rhinelander saw steady business early Thursday afternoon.  "The Hunger Games" finale drew the most movie fans to the early showings, but bad weather and the Packers game could mean smaller crowds at night.

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EAGLE RIVER - Every northern county in Wisconsin will make an effort to increase deer populations until 2017.

That was recommended by the County Deer Advisories Committees.

"Deer hunting stays the same," County Deer Advisories Committee Chairman for Vilas County Ken Anderson said. "Hours of sometime boredom interrupted by moments of shear adrenaline rush and I still get that adrenaline rush when I see that buck."

Anderson shot his first buck on public land in Vilas County 56 years ago.

"10 pointer, north of Star Lake in the Bear Springs area in those high oak ridges and everyone says well you're done now, you might as well quit," said Anderson.

He didn't quit. He's hunted in the Wisconsin deer season 58 years in a row. He bought his 40 acres of land in Eagle River in the 1970s. Now he's the chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress and CDAC in Vilas County.

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RHINELANDER - Most people have a yearly tradition when it comes to celebrating Thanksgiving. For one Rhinelander restaurant, giving back to the community has been a tradition for a decade.

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RHINELANDER - Many people share a meal and conversation with family and friends on Thanksgiving, but some people could miss out if they have to work or don't have family nearby. 

To help out people who are in that situation, North Country Vineyard and Grace Foursquare Churches delivered free Thanksgiving meals Thursday.

Volunteers packaged meals Thursday morning and started delivering them around noon.

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ANTIGO - A pair of turkeys likely destined for someone's Thanksgiving dinner table will instead live out long and happy lives thanks to their daring escape.

The turkeys were in a truck headed down Highway 29 in Wausau Sunday morning. Their crate fell off the back of the truck and onto the highway.  Another driver called police, but somehow the birds weren't hit by cars.

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RHINELANDER - Not everyone has time to go to the gym during the holiday season, but there still steps you can take to stay active at home.

"While you're watching TV, you can be on the ground doing sit-ups or planks—just anything," says Sheri Gaber, a fitness specialist at personal trainer at Tone Zone Fitness in Rhinelander. "Just keep moving. Keep that sedentary time down."

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WAUTOMA - Authorities say they've found a person involved in the fatal shooting of a hunter near Redgranite in east central Wisconsin.

Gregory Welk of Mount Morris was shot just before sunset Monday while he hunted on his land. The 56-year-old was able to call 911 and gave investigators some information before he died at the hospital.

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