SHIRLEY -- On a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon in early October, students began pouring out of the Lura A. White Elementary School to get some exercise during the school day.

The Ayer Shirley PTO coordinated the event to coincide with International Walk to School Day, a global event where communities from over 40 countries walk and bike to school on a single day. The activity is part of the National Center for Safe Routes to School program, of which Lura A. White is a part.

As students and staff walked around the field behind the school for 30 minutes, many students were spotted continually checking their blue pedometers, a bonus supplied by MassRides, an integral part of the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School program.

"I've walked 1,354 steps!" exclaimed one excited trekker, who switched from walking, to skipping, and back to walking again.

After the walk, retired fourth-grade teacher Meredith Marcinkewicz presented the data collected by each class to her weekly Creative Problem Solving groups for analysis. The students looked at the walkers' statistics and made many observations.

First, they discussed the meaning of the word "pedometer," which literally means "foot measurement," and thought of other words that have "ped-" and "-ometer" in them. Examples students thought of included pedestrian, pedal, thermometer, and speedometer.

The first-grade students listed all of the classes with the number of steps each had walked. They noted, among other things, that Mrs. Marcoux's fourth-grade class took the most steps -- 66,566 --and that Principal Patricia Fitzgerald and reading teacher Sue Palmer took the fewest number of steps, as they had walked individually, and not with any one class. The pupils also drew illustrations that are now on display in the school lobby.

The second-grade group put all of the classes in order by the number of steps walked, and determined that, with an average stride of 24 inches, the total number of steps taken was 801,103.

The pupils also took note of some of the reasons some classes may have taken more steps than others. For example, some of the pupils ran instead of walked, and some walked further out from the others. In addition, some classes have more students than others, and some students may have taken smaller steps.

The third-grade problem-solvers graphed the steps for each grade level and also did some illustrations. Their work is on display on a bulletin board in the front lobby.

"This ties in nicely with our new health and wellness policy," said Fitzgerald after the walk.

The "Act Relative to School Nutrition," signed into law on July 30, 2010, set new standards designed to ensure that public schools offer students food and beverage choices that enhance learning, contribute to their healthy growth and development, and cultivate lifelong healthy eating behaviors.

The standards are part of the commonwealth's broad-based, collaborative initiative to reduce childhood obesity and to prevent its complications in childhood and later in adulthood.

The new standards include a requirement that school districts establish School Wellness Advisory Committees that review and help implement school district policies addressing school nutrition, nutrition education, physical activity, and related issues that affect student health.

The activities of the Safe Routes to School program, under the auspices of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, not only dovetail nicely with the goals of the new health and wellness standards required by the state, but are also a lot of fun.

"I think we should do this every month," ASPTO Co-chair Ann Kahn said on the day of the walk, children tugging at her shirt for attention so they could share how many steps they had walked. "The pedometers make it even more fun and educational," she said.

Lura A. White is currently working with MassRides School Outreach Coordinator Heather Ross to arrange future pedestrian and bicycle safety programs, and plans another walk in the spring.