Imagine, for just a few minutes, where we’d be without school bus drivers.

They’re responsible for safely delivering and transporting home the most precious cargo there is – children.

But they’re often taken for granted, their important role in public education unappreciated.

This week, Feb. 21-27, the thousands of school bus drivers in the state take a well-deserved turn in the spotlight. Gov. Tim Walz has proclaimed the time as School Bus Driver Appreciation Week in Minnesota.

Not only do school bus drivers come through in the clutch – transferring students in all kinds of weather, road conditions and traffic – this past year, they fulfilled their role as essential school district employees through a pandemic. In Alexandria, for example, they sprayed down their buses with a disinfectant to guard against the coronavirus.

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Their commitment was cited by the governor.

"Our school bus drivers have stepped up in unprecedented ways to serve Minnesota's students during an incredibly challenging year, and I am forever grateful for their dedication to our students' education, safety, and wellbeing," Walz said.

The Minnesota School Bus Operators Association and Minnesota Association of Pupil Transportation first teamed up in 2017 to create School Bus Driver Appreciation Day in Minnesota. It encourages school leaders, parents and students to celebrate the often-overlooked profession.

This year’s recognition has been expanded to a weeklong, virtual event. Content celebrating Minnesota’s school bus drivers will be unveiled on dedicated Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week.

“Minnesota school bus drivers are going above and beyond their typical duties to serve students and communities during this unprecedented school year,” said MSBOA President Garrett Regan, adding that the appreciation week gives school bus drivers the recognition they deserve.

School bus drivers throughout the state, including here in Douglas County, took on new essential roles during the COVID-19 pandemic to serve their communities, such as delivering meals and distance learning supplies to families, providing Wi-Fi connections, and transporting the children of first responders and healthcare workers to and from daycare.

School bus drivers have also followed new, rigorous health and safety protocols to transport students to and from school safely during the pandemic.

“Not only do Minnesota school bus drivers play a crucial role in our school systems, but they have a positive impact on students,” said MAPT President John Thomas. “The pandemic has reinforced how caring and dedicated school bus drivers are. Many drivers have participated in activities like birthday parades and graduation ceremonies, showing how much they care about the students they serve.”

School districts across Minnesota will celebrate School Bus Driver Appreciation Week in special ways, such as by passing out student-made thank you cards and providing food and beverages to bus drivers.

So if you know a school bus driver, the next time you see him or her, tell them how much you appreciate the very important role they play in the education and safety of children. They do a lot more than just make the wheels of the bus go round and round.