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NEWS STORIES

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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EAGLE RIVER - The first-ever ATV & UTV Side by Side World Championship Derby finished up Sunday afternoon. 

Races started on Saturday and continued through the weekend. 

Spectators, racers and event staff all say they were pleased with how the event turned out.

"There's always going to be some nit-nat things that need to be changed, but I can tell you for the first event with everything we had going, it really went well," said Russell Davis, the Derbytrack's VP of Sales and Marketing. "And we're going to have some meetings afterward and obviously change some things, but we've got a lot of compliments, mostly positive, and we're excited to build on next year."

Event organizers estimate about 150 racers of all ages and from all over came to the challenge. Winners got cash prizes. The derby also had night events such as a mud run and a freestyle show.

Next year organizers hope they bring in more people.




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WAUSAU - A garage fire in Wausau early this morning will likely cost about $7,200 in damage, according to Wausau Fire Battalion Chief Allan Antolik.

Antolik said it was a 12 by 20 ft detached garage on Pleasant Street.

The Wausau Fire Department responded to the call at 1:30 a.m.

The department says the cause of the fire is undetermined.

No one was hurt. 

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EAGLE RIVER - Wisconsin native Zac Zakowski won the UTV championship derby on Sunday at the AMSOIL Eagle River Derbytrack.

"Once you start doing this you can't stop," said professional UTV and ATV driver Zac Zakowski. "It's like a drug."

Zakowski started racing seriously when he was about 17 years old. The fun hobby quickly turned into a pro sport, a career and a lifestyle. He has been traveling to many different races since then, competing at the professional level.

"You kinda miss out on that stuff and you miss it but at the same time when you're doing this stuff, you don't," Zakowski said.

The sport is hard on the body and the wallet. Two years ago, Zakowski said while driving his ATV he hit a tree and tore his ACL in his knee. He was out for two seasons.

One thing almost all ATV drivers, pro or amateur, can agree on is the sport is truly a family affiar.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my family," Zakowski said. "I mean you can walk the pits and probably almost everybody would say they do it because their family supports it and they do it as a family."

"The lifestyle is tiring because you load up the rig and the trailer to travel thousands of miles to race for an hour or two hours depending on the race," said Zakowski's mother, Linda. "Then you load back up to go home. But once you get to that site on the track you're excited and you just can't wait for things to get going."

Zakowski stopped racing for a while when his mom got diagnosed with breast cancer. Now his mother is in remission and Zakowski participates in races that raise awareness for the disease.

"He paints his whole quad pink and has stickers on it," Linda Zakowski said. 

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ST. GERMAIN - More than 11,000 people suffer from Multiple Sclerosis in Wisconsin alone.

The owners of Lynn Ann's Campground in St. Germain want to do something about that. They started the Woods and Waters Paddle last year race to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

It's an out and back kayak and stand up paddle board race.

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RHINELANDER - People run for many different reasons.

On Saturday the community came together to run to remember Kory Dahlvig.

Dahlvig was a Vilas County sheriff's deputy who lost his life in the line of duty. Nicolet College started the Run to Remember three years ago in his honor.

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EAGLE RIVER - The AMSOIL Eagle River Derbytrack's first-ever ATV & UTV World Championship Derby is in full gear.

Racers say they are impressed with the first-ever event.

"There's been really no ATV races in Wisconsin and for them to have us here and do this event, it's going to be pretty cool," said professional ATV driver Cody Janssen. "I'm pretty excited to be a part of it."

The warm weather is a welcome change to racers like Jay Mittelstaedt, who are used to racing at the annual snowmobile derby in the winter.

"It's really weird because if you've been coming here for however long and it's snow and ice and cold...now the grass is green and there's piles of dirt," Mittelstaedt said. "It's a little different but it's pretty cool."

Racers of all ages and skill dashed around the track.

For many racers and fans, the derby is a family affair.

"My husband took it up when he was a kid, he's been racing for almost 20 years, and we just finally got into it these last few years and thought it would be something for the kids to get into," said parent and racer 
Michele Grant. "And I started three years ago and it's a lot of fun."

Racers want spectators to see a good show.

"That's why I hope that hill is full today and I hope people come out and appreciate how cool this is," Janssen said.

The event continues until the championships on Sunday afternoon. 

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RHINELANDER - Pawz n' Clawz held their Second Pawzitive Outdoor Games on Saturday.

The event brings dogs and people together for some outdoor fun while helping local non-profits. The Pawzitive Outdoor Games tests a dogs skill in agility, dock diving, and speed.

TLC Training owner Carol Lofquist set up a standard course to test dog skills.

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