As a school social worker and homeless liaison, Jennifer Modeen believes the best propeller out of poverty is access to education.
But she also understands for that to happen, children need to be able to get to school easily.
"If you look at it from a poverty standpoint, there's nothing that I'm more passionate about than the fact that education and access to education and a good education is the only thing that really moves you out of poverty," Modeen said.
Poverty is no small challenge in the Grand Forks Public School District, with 38 percent of students in the free or reduced lunch programs. The district is working to solve the problem of transportation access with a new program that would provide busing to more students living in poverty who otherwise don't have an easy way of getting to school.
The program, called Remove the Barrier, has applied for a $15,000 grant from the United Way.
For about three years, the district has provided city bus passes and busing through Dietrich Bus Services to students in need with funding through the Altru Alliance Foundation.
Modeen is quick to tout the organization's generosity. About 50 students receive transportation access, according to Jody Thompson, the district's assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.
However, as Thompson explained, Altru Alliance is not a permanent funding source for the transportation program. Remove the Barrier will fill the gap and, by the end of the year, increase the number of students served to about 72.
"Obviously school attendance is a significant issue toward school success," Thompson said. "And if kids aren't there, then they're not learning and they're getting behind their counterparts."
He explained the need for transportation can arise from a number of situations, such as if a family's only vehicle breaks down or a parent's work schedule changes. Thompson said the district's social workers, counselors, teachers and administrators are good at looking into attendance problems with students and finding out their needs.
Transportation aid provided by the district serves students with short-term and long-term needs, Modeen said.
Whether students receive a city bus pass or busing through Dietrich depends on which routes are closest to their homes and which routes allow them to spend the shortest amount of time possible riding the bus.
In her experience with the district, Modeen said students want to be at school and do well, and as a result, the importance of transportation access can't be overestimated.
"The need is high," she said. "We, as a responsive organization, want to respond to the needs of the people that we serve. ... I think that the value of education and the value of investing in our students and our youth cannot be overstated."