GLENARDEN, Md. — In the weeks since she evacuated her passengers when her school bus caught on fire, Renita Smith has been hailed a hero by students, school officials, fire departments, and even the Baltimore Orioles.
On Monday, Ellen DeGeneres added to the accolades with a hefty reward.
Smith, a school bus driver for Prince George’s County (Md.) Public Schools, was transporting 20 elementary school students on Sept. 12 when the incident began. Authorities said that the fire appeared to have originated near one of the rear wheels and spread throughout the bus.
A local resident said that Smith evacuated all of the students and then went back onto the bus to make sure it was clear. No injuries were reported in the incident.
Smith was recently recognized in an assembly at Glenarden Woods Elementary School. Students cheered and held up “THANK YOU!” signs, a marching band played, and school district CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell lauded Smith for her actions.
“I saw the smoke and the flames, and she showed her unthinking, unflinching courage in making sure that all 20 students were safely off that bus,” Maxwell said during the assembly.
On Monday, Smith appeared before a national audience as a guest on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Smith told DeGeneres about the school bus fire and how she evacuated her “babies,” as she calls her passengers.
Having learned that Smith is a single mother who lives “paycheck to paycheck,” the talk show host surprised the school bus driver with an extra check: $20,000 from Shutterfly.
Watch Smith on “The Ellen DeGeneres” show:
Here’s a Prince George’s County Public Schools video with students thanking Smith and footage of the school assembly: