Students at T. Clay Wood Elementary School, which does not have sidewalks leading to it, walked around the perimeter of the athletic field Wednesday for International Walk to School Day. (Jim Barnes/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

As Wednesday dawned, bright and sunny, it was a perfect fall day to walk to school. And that’s exactly what hundreds of Prince William County children did — joined by some special escorts.

Students from about 30 schools across the county participated in International Walk to School Day on Wednesday as part of an effort to promote physical fitness and safe routes to school. Fire and rescue personnel joined students, parents and community leaders in many neighborhoods for their walks.

Bus riders were able to participate, too, and were met by firefighters when they stepped off their buses to begin a brisk walk around the school property.

“I think all of us in society have an important role in encouraging our youth to be physically active,” said Fire and Rescue Chief Kevin McGee. “It’s important for their development, mental alertness and their long-term health. So we’re here to be models for these students, so that they can see from us that it’s important to maintain your physical condition. Starting out the day with a walk to school is a great way to demonstrate that value.”

Robert Wall, public education coordinator for Prince William County Fire and Rescue, said Walk to School Day highlights the importance of staying healthy by getting out and walking and biking regularly and safely.

“Our Safe Routes to School program hopes to bring an awareness to everyone that this time of year, thousands of students are traveling to and from school on buses, walking and biking on or around our roadways,” Wall said. “We need to be careful around these areas and when these students are making their way to and from school.

“We are also targeting the education of our students and their families about the safe way to get to school by foot, bike, bus or car,” Wall said. “Keeping them safe is our number one priority.”

McGee acknowledged that walking to school isn’t feasible for students who have to travel long distances to school, or whose neighborhoods lack sidewalks. He participated in Walk to School Day at T. Clay Wood Elementary School, near Nokesville, where all of the students arrive in buses or other vehicles.

“We’re very cognizant of the safety part of the walk to school,” McGee said. “This particular school doesn’t have neighborhoods with sidewalks that come to the school, so we have a course that we walk that’s the perimeter of the school property, and that’s a nice, brisk walk. We see that the kids enjoy being with us for the walk, and it’s as safe as it could possibly be.”

McGee and other fire and rescue personnel greeted T. Clay Wood students when they got off their buses Wednesday. The entire student body formed a line to walk around the perimeter of the athletic field, carrying their backpacks and, in some cases, musical instruments.

Many of the students wore big smiles, and some gave in to the urge to break into a run as they neared the end of the route, where McGee and personnel from the fire marshal’s office were waiting to give everyone high-fives and exhortations to have a great day.

Barnes is a freelance writer.