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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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ANTIGO - When you can't catch fish, it's easy to blame the lure. If you need something different, people in Antigo make a lure that you might want to try. The Mepps assembly plant is located right off Highway 45.

Mepps fishing lures were originally made in Paris, France, starting in 1938. Back in the 1970's, a local Antigo sporting goods store owner, Todd Sheldon, decided to buy that facility and moved it to Nice, France. His son, Mike is now the president of the company.

"The guys that own the Mepps company in France were getting old enough to where they wanted to retire so we bought the Mepps company in France in 1972," said Sheldon.

One detail that makes the lure number one in the world is that they use actual animal tail fur.

"The tails are washed, dyed and tied back there," said plant worker Kim Wiegert. "And they're dehydrated. They will store a long time, so they can last 3 to 5 years."

There are many benefits to using real hair as opposed to artificial hair.

"The hair is hollow and goes through a lot of wear and tear," said Wiegert. "Other hairs would disintegrate, and fall apart. With these, it'll last longer, the fish can bite on them and it'll take a long time before they'll actually chew them apart."

Along with the hairs, there is a secret way to put the lures together that makes Mepps the best.

"We have a certain wind that we have and we can tell when we put them together, how it should be. All of our spinners are field tested before they actually go out," said Wiegert.

Even though the company distributes their product around the world, the Sheldon's still enjoy being based in Antigo.

"It's home. I grew up here and my parents grew up here and of course my kids did. And it's such a different pace of life here than the rest of the world," said Sheldon.

Everyone putting the little pieces together are women. Kim is just one who works in the plant that has been there for nearly 40 years. She also gives tours of the facility to the public.

"I like to react with the people when they come in, especially ones that have fishing stories to tell you. It's interesting here and you get to meet other people," said Wiegert.

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LANGLADE COUNTY - Since March, Langlade County hasn't had a district attorney.

Its former district attorney Ralph Uttke went to work in Marathon County. The governor could have appointed someone for the job, but chose not to. Since then, a special prosecutor has been filling in.

But all district attorney positions statewide are up for election on November 8th.

Now Portage County assistant district attorney, Elizabeth Constable, will run for the position.

"It was always my plan to be a prosecutor," Constable said "And that's what I've done for my entire career."

Constable has been an assistant district attorney in Portage County for the past two years and also an assistant DA in Wood County for five years before that.

"I'm at the point in my career that I feel qualified to step into a leadership position," Constable said.

So when former Langlade County District Attorney Ralph Uttke left the office this spring, Constable saw her opportunity. She has a home ouside Elcho, so she decided to run��"and she's running uncontested.

"It all just worked out perfectly," Constable said.

Newswatch 12 caught Constable on vacation. But if she wasn't, she probably would have been in the courtroom. In her seven years, she's prosecuted 25 jury trials. But she's passionate about the justice system because she's seen it work, and wants it to work.

"I've had cases where I've really seen a turnaround in the defendent...the objectives of the sentencing actually worked," Constable said.

Part of that passion comes not only from her law degree from University of Wisconsin Law School. Before that, Constable got her masters in religion and philosophy from Harvard University��"on a full scholarship.

"Kind of studying people, who we are, what we do , how we think, what motivates us," Constable said.

It's that kind of study that lends itself well to her work as a prosecutor, she said.

"I really do also want to see that the defendants for the most part I just want to see them get on the right path," Constable said. 

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MADISON - A newly released investigatory report shows former U.S. Attorney James Santelle misused a government credit card to pay for his dry cleaning, a rental car and an airline ticket.

The new details were revealed Thursday in a report by the U.S. Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General. It was released to The Associated Press in response to an open records request.

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MADISON - The head of Wisconsin's State Patrol is ready to retire.

Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald will step down Aug. 5 after five years leading the agency. Gov. Scott Walker's office announced his retirement Thursday.

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NORTHEASTERN WI - Police in northeastern Wisconsin need help finding a missing 47-year-old woman.

Nancy Renkas was last seen on July 18th in Iron Mountain. She told a relative that she planned to drive to Menominee, Michigan to look at a camping trailer.

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ANTIGO - The Raptor Education Group, Inc. (REGI) in Antigo got its start more than 25 years ago. It's a group that helps nurse injured birds back to life and returns them to the wild. But have you ever stopped to take a look at one of the people who makes it all happen?

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STEVENS POINT - The trip for a couple flying from Wisconsin to Arizona will take longer after their private plane skidded onto a runway in Stevens Point Thursday morning.

Neither person was hurt.  The couple was flying back to Arizona after attending the EAA event in Oshkosh.

After an electrical problem, the landing gear in their airplane didn't deploy.  They did what's called a belly-landing on a runway at the Stevens Point Municipal Airport just before 8:30 this morning.

The Stevens Point Fire Department responded to the scene.

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