Gov. Mark Dayton declared Wednesday, Feb. 22, the first-ever School Bus Driver Appreciation Day in Minnesota.

Farmington student Jenna Hadler, however, didn't need a special holiday to be grateful for her bus driver whose vigilance may have saved her life.

On Jan. 10, Hadler, 14, and Duncan Weniger, 18, were getting ready to step off the bus at their stop on Akin Road.

Suddenly, their driver, Tammi Fletcher, yelled for them to stop. A teenaged driver had come upon the bus too fast, and, due to the slippery conditions of the road that day, was unable to stop.

He slid right past where the two students would have been standing if Fletcher hadn't intervened.

"It was scary," said Hadler. "I'm thankful for her because otherwise we could have gotten hurt."

Tom Severson, general manager of Marschall Line, Inc. said he wasn't surprised to hear the story. He threw a celebration for the 110 school bus drivers he employs at the bus garage on Highway 50 in Farmington. The drivers service routes in school districts 192 and 196. They are accompanied by about 50 bus aides.

"It is the kind of story that can be told way too often by many of our drivers," he said. "There is nothing more important than our drivers being aware of their surroundings and watching for and anticipating these types of situations before releasing students in the afternoon or even letting them on in the morning."

The Minnesota School Bus Operators Association and Minnesota Association of Pupil Transportation teamed up to create School Bus Driver Appreciation Day as a way to encourage those in the often overlooked profession. Gov. Dayton issued his approval in the form of a proclamation that recognizes the bus drivers who shuttle 760,000 students to and from school each day.

"School bus drivers transport parents' most precious cargo - their children - day in and day out, and they do this job humbly and with great pride," said Josh Schiffler, MSBOA president, in a press release. "We are thankful that Gov. Dayton has declared Feb. 22 School Bus Driver Appreciation Day in Minnesota so that we can give these quiet heroes the recognition they deserve."

The groups held a press conference that day in St. Louis Park, offered thank-you cards to students to fill out and give to their bus drivers, and handed out winter hats embroidered with a school bus.

Around the school district, students expressed their appreciation, like students at Farmington Elementary School who signed thank you posters and gave out candy to their bus drivers.

The school bus industry is the largest form of mass transit in Minnesota, the proclamation said. It is estimated that the use of school buses save the United States more than 2.3 billion gallons of fuel per year.

MSBOA represents Minnesota's privately owned school bus contractors who provide more than 60 percent of the school buses used to transport Minnesota children. Its members are responsible for more than 400,000 students transported 233,000 miles per day.

MAPT is a nonprofit association of bus drivers and industry leaders who promote safe and efficient student transportation.