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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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ARMSTRONG CREEK - Around 9:12 a.m. on Saturday emergency responders assisted a 49-year-old Crandon man who accidentally shot himself while hunting in Armstrong Creek, according to DNR Safety Specialist Warden Mark Little.

Little said the man saw a deer while sitting in his truck. He went to grab his rifle, and as he was manipulating the gun it went off. A bullet went through the man's upper right leg and lower left leg, exiting out the driver-side door.

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RHINELANDER - Drs. Fosters and Smith in Rhinelander sells everything from leashes to liver treats.

But this past weekend the store teamed up with a man who dedicates his life to selling blankets for animals.

"I've always had a passion for pets," said Jeff Hopwood, a 25- year-old from Mt. Horeb who has some serious skills when it comes to making blankets.

"I wanted something that could help raise money for transports," said Hopwood.

About four years ago, Hopwood started making tie-blankets to sell to help animal transports.

"[Transporting is when you] take the animals to another destination and they keep going until they get to their forever home," said Hopwood.

Hopwood got the idea from his friend that told him about selling coats for pets.

"A spinoff would be blankets and it evolved so much bigger," said Hopwood.

It takes a few hours for Hopwood to finish one blanket. And on Saturday he had about 100 ready to be sold.

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RHINELANDER - You can find movies, popcorn and candy at Rouman Cinema in Rhinelander.

But Sunday, the theatre lobby was filled with turkeys, corn and potatoes.

Owner of the cinema, George Rouman says he has been donating Thanksgiving meals to those in need since 1995.

Goldie Kalas was lucky enough Sunday to receive the 5,000th meal donated by the cinema since it started 22 years ago.

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Women could sample up to 15 of 24 different wines at 12 participating businesses. Along with the wine tastings, women who paid the $20 ticket also got coupons for each shop.

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On Friday morning, Tomahawk Police Chief Al Elvins held a press conference to explain what police think led up to the shooting.

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EAGLE RIVER - Americans eat more than 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving Day. That much thawing, handling, and cooking of turkeys means people can make mistakes.

The Vilas County Public Health Department wants to help people avoid exposing themselves to dangerous bacteria. It says frozen turkeys should always be thawed in the refrigerator or under running water.

"You don't want to set them out on your countertop for any amount of time to thaw them because that's when they're going to be in the 'danger zone.' The 'danger zone' is between 40 and 140 [degrees Fahrenheit], and that's when pathogens can grow," said Vilas County Registered Sanitarian Amy Springer.

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RHINELANDER - The Rhinelander Salvation Army hopes to raise $40,000 in its bell ringing campaign again this year. It reached that goal during the holidays a year ago.

Volunteers kicked off the bell ringing drive at Trig's and Shopko on Friday. Eighty-six percent of money raised stays in the Rhinelander area to help families in emergencies.

"We're very excited that we're keeping our goal at 40 (thousand dollars) this year, and we're hoping that people are continuing to be generous in helping us reach that goal," Rhinelander Salvation Army Kettle Coordinator Kim Swisher said. "People are friendly, they're excited, they're like, 'Oh, it's bell ringing time!' [That] always means the holidays. We're excited about that."

You'll see volunteers at Trig's and Shopko through the holidays. Bell ringing starts at Walmart next week.

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