Inconsistent internet a problem for rural communities faced with online learning

Stapleton Public Schools has students from Stapleton and North Platte, as well as rural...
Stapleton Public Schools has students from Stapleton and North Platte, as well as rural Lincoln, Logan, and McPherson Counties. (Credit: Patrick Johnstone/KNOP-TV)(KNOP)
Published: Apr. 27, 2020 at 7:40 PM CDT
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Reliable internet is something many people may take for granted, but some families in rural communities have limited, or no access to quality internet. With many people working from home, and schooling done at home, more internet is required for families, which can take its toll.

The Amos family lives on the border of Lincoln and Logan counties and they get their internet through a dish.

"We don't have cell phone service here, so for my husband to get his text messages, he actually has to get into the vehicle and drive like a mile up the road to where there's a bigger hill, where he can get enough service to get his messages and any missed phone calls he's had," said Kennetha Amos. "Our internet out here comes in off of a dish, because we don't have any way to hook up to internet. We don't have very strong service, so our internet is really slow."

Slow internet affects the schooling of Amos' two daughters, who go to Stapleton Public Schools.

"It's been kind of tricky, because sometimes only certain parts in the house we can actually get some stuff to load," said Amos' youngest daughter, Kelsey, who is in the sixth grade.

"It's just really hard, because there's a lot of lag time, so I might be a couple seconds behind in the conversation," said Megan Amos, who is a sophomore, "Sometimes we'll have a video and then you answer questions based on the video, but a five minute video might take 20 minutes to watch."

The Amos family is not the only family experiencing difficulty with online learning, as Jason Wehnes, a Stapleton social studies teacher who has been helping families troubleshoot problems, explained.

"The kids in Stapleton might have good internet, the kids and North Platte might have good internet, but when you look at certain families that live in rural areas, there's just very limited options as far as internet, and good quality internet," Wehnes said.

Stapleton Public Schools has students from Stapleton and North Platte, as well as students from Lincoln, Logan, and McPherson Counties.

Not only is internet slower in more rural areas, some families might not have internet access, or, like the Amos family, not have unlimited internet access.

"Our internet, we pay for per gigabyte, we don't have unlimited internet out here. So, in the last month, with the kids being home and my husband working for home, we have had to add data three times, and that gets very expensive if as you add data," Kennetha Amos said.

In a typical cycle, the Amos family uses less than 25 gigabytes of data. As of last week, the family had gone through nearly five times that amount. The Amos family is not the only ones in the Stapleton School District being afected.

"There are a lot of families that might not be able to afford internet, or they just use their phone plan or data plan, if you're one of those families, you've been having to buy more and more data. Well, if that's the case, education then comes comes down to an income thing," Wehnes said.

Wehnes and other Stapleton teachers are doing everything they can to work with their students to make sure they don't fall behind in their education.

"Their teachers have been wonderful," Kennetha Amos said. "They send them emails, their lessons, and they've had zoom meetings. Of course nothing replaces being in the classroom, but I think they're doing good, their teachers respond back and forth with questions, and are real good with email."

"You want to be close to your email, because kids' schedules are all over the place. So, you're trying to be as available as you can, answering emails anywhere from seven in the morning to 10:00, 11:00 at night depending on the kids' schedules," Wehnes said. "The biggest thing we can do is be patient. The circumstances aren't ideal for us, they're not ideal for the kids, they're not ideal for anyone, but we just want to do the very best that we can."

The one positive coming out of this situation is the opportunity for the students to become better learners when they go back to in-classroom learning.

"I think it'll help me for when I get into college, and I have to do research papers and things like that, and I won't be able to just ask the professor, but it's also not helping me because there's no like hands-on learning," Megan Amos said.

"It's giving me a lot more patience than I used to have, and it's making me more responsible, to make sure I have all my assignments on time," Kelsey Amos said.