Students in rural areas embrace slow WiFi, farm work while living at home

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Haley Unruh returned to her family home in Wilmore, Kansas, after on-campus classes were moved online. Unruh and her twin brother Dillon are unable to attend Zoom classes at the same time due to slow WiFi. (Photo courtesy of Haley Unruh)

When campus shutdown to stop the local spread of COVID-19 following spring break, several students returned to their hometowns to finish out the rest of the school year online.

However, some students living in rural areas have encountered issues with slow WiFi and an increased workload while living at home.

Colby Nichols, freshman in animal science, returned to his family’s farm in Minneapolis, Kansas, after the dorms closed. He is the only one in his household using the internet daily, but he said downloading files from the internet takes a long time.

In addition to school work, he helps his family do chores around the farm. His dad is a truck driver for Walgreens who works at night and his mom is a substitute para who is out of work. Nichols said he is “swamped” everyday from 5:45 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. with school work and chores.

“My brother got a job so I got promoted into doing chores since my father works nights and sleeps during the day,” Nichols said via email.

Luckily, Nichols said his professors have been understanding during the transition to online classes.

“I think the professors are doing as much as they can to make it as easy of a transition as possible. Emails take awhile for a response, but I understand that with hundreds of students and hundreds of emails every day,” Nichols said.

Haley Unruh, senior in elementary education, lives near Wilmore, Kansas. Unruh said she spent spring break at her home and never returned to her off-campus apartment following the suspension of on-campus classes.

“I worked for the Manhattan and Junction [City] schools as a substitute teacher,” she said via email. “At first I was hopeful that I could still stay in MHK and work. Then when all schools were closed for the rest of the term and with classes completely online, it made the most sense for me to stay home. I still have to pay full rent even though I am not living there. My complex was not willing to cut us a break.”

Haley and her twin brother Dillon Unruh, senior in computer science, struggle with slow WiFi.

“Where we are located, there is only one company that will provide the service for us,” Haley said. “We pay around $80 a month and if Dillon, my brother, and I are both working, the connection is super slow.”

Haley said if she has a Zoom class at the same time as Dillon, she wouldn’t be able to use the WiFi connection.

Like Nichols, Haley and Dillon are expected to help their family with ranch and farm work. While this doesn’t take up a lot of their time, Haley finds it difficult to find motivation to work on homework.

“The quality of my school work has suffered,” Haley said. “I am less motivated to do my work and to do a good job on my work. Most of my school work now feels like busy work which effects my motivation even more.”

She also said she spent three days a week before spring break in an elementary classroom. Now, with schools closed for the semester, she said she is watching online lessons and feels like she is moving backwards.

“We understand that this is about the best option we have in order to get the required hours for accreditation,” Haley said.

Zoe Schultz, sophomore in agricultural communications and journalism, also experiences slow WiFi speeds on her family’s farm north of Grainfield, Kansas. She also helps out with farm work as needed.

Schultz and her sister, a sophomore in high school, can’t use the WiFi at the same time. She said the area doesn’t have built up fiber-optic lines.

Zoe Shultz attends a Zoom class while helping with planting on her family's farm. Shultz said it is challenging, but luckily the tractor has auto-steer and she can pay attention to class. (Photo courtesy of Zoe Shultz)
Zoe Shultz attends a Zoom class while helping with planting on her family's farm. Shultz said it is challenging, but luckily the tractor has auto-steer and she can pay attention to class. (Photo Courtesy of Zoe Shultz)

“[Our] speeds don’t allow us both to be on during the same time,” Schultz said via email. “My father who owns and operates the farm also serves on a few boards that require Zooms during many times, so we have to be really selective on the time we spend and when.”

Luckily, Schultz said her professors are working with her and her grades haven’t suffered yet. However, she said she just wants the semester to end.

Although COVID-19 hasn’t been as wide-spread in rural areas of Kansas, Schultz said she’s seen small changes in her community. There are two cases in Sheridan County where Schultz is located and one case in Gove County, which Schultz said is five miles from where she lives.

“Life right now in our rural communities are ultimately going through change in a substantial way,” Schultz said. “Between small businesses closing like my moms hair shop and other businesses providing different service, things look quite different. Due to the fact we do live in a very rural area full of agriculture, each operation and agriculture business is also suffering due to the low commodity prices, ethanol plant shutdowns, cattle markets and many other challenges that COVID has brought.”

Nichols said this is a stressful time to focus on school work anyway, but roped in with the other obligations like worrying about the price of livestock and crops, it’s all so much harder. However, he said he is trying to stay positive as he knows agriculture is important for the U.S. and world economies.

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My name is Bailey Britton and I am the managing editor for the Collegian. I grew up in Colby, Kansas. I am a sophomore studying journalism with minors in leadership studies and English. I value quality news coverage and believe that communication is a vital part of solving problems. When I have free time, I like to spend time with friends and family or be outdoors with a good book.