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With A Foundation Laid in Primary Schools, SparkWheel Seeks to Expand Services to College and Universities


Prior to the pilot program at Pittsburg State, Sparkwheel had seven locations in Pittsburg, KS including four elementary schools, the city’s middle and high schools. That’s in addition to locations in Chanute, Parsons, and Independence.

Starting college is difficult enough, made even more so by the challenge of relocating to do so.

A pilot program at Pittsburg State is helping to lower those barriers for students.

KRPS’s Fred Fletcher-Fierro has more.

According to data released this summer by theNational Association of Student Personnel Administrators nearly 36% of college students in Kansas are the first in their family to go to college.

In Missouri, that figure is a few ticks high at 37.14%. Perhaps making the leap from high school to college even more difficult, 56% of all postsecondary students in the U.S. have parents who don’t hold bachelor’s degrees.

Pittsburg State’s Megan Stoneberger Johnson has walked that path before as the first person in her family to attend college. She’s gone on to earn three degrees from PSU.

Today, she’s the coordinator of the Sparkwheel program is well-known in high schools, and could expand further into universities and colleges.

“Sparkwheel provides assistance to students in need. K12, they have been around for 25 years, there in over 70 schools in four states but Pittsburg State University is hosting a pilot program. The first time we’ve branched out into higher ed. So trying to extend those services to students who are seeking a college degree.”

Stoneberger Johnson is knowledgeable in the area having been a high school teacher and a family education and support specialist for the Economic Security Corporation of the Southwest Area in Missouri prior to Sparkwheel’s Coordinator.

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Since 2017 Fred Fletcher-Fierro has driven up Highway 171 through thunderstorms, downpours, snow, and ice storms to host KRPS’s Morning Edition. He’s also a daily reporter for the station, covering city government, elections, public safety, arts, entertainment, culture, sports and more. Fred has also spearheaded and overseen a sea change in programming for KRPS from a legacy classical station to one that airs a balance of classical, news, jazz, and cultural programming that better reflects the diverse audience of the Four States. For over two months in the fall of 2022 he worked remotely with NPR staff to relaunch to an NPR style news and information website.

In the fall of 2023 Fred was promoted to Interim General Manager and was appointed GM in Feburary of 2024.