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Walking in Circles

By Kelly Turner

Even though it was 275 miles away from Houston, where I live, the Uvalde massacre at Robb Elementary in May 2022 got to me. All the school shootings bothered me, but this time I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t shake the idea that adults were doing wrong by kids. We insisted they go to school, but couldn’t guarantee their safety there. After the Parkland shooting in 2018 I marched, pulling one of my kids in a wagon, the other strapped into a carrier on my chest. Now I worried that every hour my kids spent in the elementary school down the street was another hour they were at risk for gun violence.

When school started that August, my second-grader’s reports made school seem boring and punitive. No talking at lunch. Recess was withheld for talking in class or canceled due to weather. I didn’t tell her I considered school dangerous, no matter how many “intruder drills” they practiced. I wanted to do something positive for all the kids at my neighborhood school, not just my own. At the same time I couldn’t stomach making guns my central issue. The politics made me feel small, ineffectual and depressed.

As soon as I read the details online, I knew. Morning Mile was mine to do. It wasn’t changing gun laws, but it was something I could do.

In January a friend mentioned a program called Morning Mile. At Morning Mile, kids arrive up to 30 minutes before the school day begins. Parent or teacher volunteers supervise them running or walking around a track. Kids receive small plastic charms to string on a necklace for each five miles they complete. It cost $2500 for a school to participate. As soon as I read the details online, I knew. Morning Mile was mine to do. It wasn’t changing gun laws, but it was something I could do. The program made perfect sense. After a half hour getting their wiggles out, kids would be settled and ready to learn. It wouldn’t keep them safe from guns, but it was something I could offer. Plus, it was less depressing than doing nothing.

I thought this was a no-brainer for the school to agree to. But after weeks of not hearing back after my initial proposal, I didn’t how to move forward.

One morning in May as I sat at my desk at home I realized my 42nd birthday was soon approaching. Despite turning 40 nearly two-years prior I had no life-affirming midlife accomplishments. The Morning Mile idea nagged at me. I brought a third cup of coffee to my desk. I thought, “Why not? Why not give it one more shot?”

I emailed the second-most approachable school administrator, offering lunch for anyone who would meet with me about Morning Mile. She responded the same day.

When the meeting day finally arrived, I gave the hard sell, sharing positive outcomes for students and teachers found among schools that offered the program: improved student focus, reduced tardies, fewer behavior complaints from teachers. I distributed example guidelines. The principal stopped me. “You don’t have to sell us on Morning Mile,” she said. “We want to know how you’ll do it.” They would be happy to get the benefits of the program, but had concerns about implementation. They suggested a committee. I bristled on the inside and left the meeting deflated. Lunch got me in the door, but I didn’t have my “yes.”

Over the summer I recruited parent volunteers and approached a local organization for the money to become an official Morning Mile school. The administrators didn’t respond to my updates about the program.  I figured not getting a “no” was close enough to the “yes” I was looking for.

Morning Mile was mine to grab or spend the rest of my life regretting letting it pass by. I’m grateful for the third-cup-of-coffee bravado that nudged me to try one more time.

A key lesson of my mother’s parenting was “fake it ’til you feel it.” I summoned this energy when the sponsorship money was late. I bought charms, necklaces, and straws to count kids’ laps. I purchased a boom box and made a playlist. I started the program at the beginning of the 2023 – 2024 school year. The check arrived six weeks in. Morning Mile sent a bigger boom box on wheels. Our school doesn’t have a track, but every day that it didn’t rain, between 20 and 60 kids walked or ran around the edges of a big field. Some kids managed over 200 miles for the year. A handful of dedicated parents turned up every day. We didn’t make a dent in the one-thousand pack of Band-Aids I bought. We only used one instant ice pack. It turned out I didn’t need a whistle. 

Morning Mile was mine to grab or spend the rest of my life regretting letting it pass by. I’m grateful for the third-cup-of-coffee bravado that nudged me to try one more time. I’m grateful that my mom’s mantra served me well. I’m happy to have spent 30 minutes, every school day of my 42nd year walking. After too many school shootings I’ve read the same headline: “Community Bands Together after Tragedy.” I’m still not empowered to prevent gun violence, but I’m heartened to know my community came together, no tragedy required. We walk in circles.


About the Writer

Kelly Turner is an in-house scientific grant editor at a public health institute in Zurich, Switzerland. Her short work appears in The Dillydoun Review and Written Tales. She has a PhD in Social Psychology from UCLA. She is a member and/or organizer of multiple Zoom co-writing groups. She lives in Houston, Texas with her family and writes the Books are my Love Language newsletter at https://kellyturner.substack.com/

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Jean
Jean
17 days ago

Hey Kelly. Well written and from the heart. A good reminder that at any age it can feel hard to push through obstacles. Congratulations!

Kelly Turner
15 days ago
Reply to  Jean

Thanks so much, Jean!

Lisa Vice
Lisa Vice
16 days ago

This is a very inspiring read. I often feel “The politics made me feel small, ineffectual and depressed.” So I’m going to look around for what I might do that at least has a positive effect. I like how “walking in circles” has a double meaning. I’m glad the narrator pushed forward!

Kelly Turner
15 days ago
Reply to  Lisa Vice

Thank you, Lisa! I appreciate you reading this and your comment. I am a strong believer in the ripple effects of small pockets of positivity. Last weekend I went to the neighborhood association meeting and met some nice neighbors. The add-on swirling in my brain this summer is to actively encourage retired people in my neighborhood to join us at Morning MIle (after they do the compulsory working-with-kids training). – Kelly

Sabena Stark
Sabena Stark
14 days ago

Moving, inspiring essay! Thank you so much, Kelly.

Kelly Turner
13 days ago
Reply to  Sabena Stark

Thank you, Sabena!

Hailey Amick
Hailey Amick
13 days ago

I love this- thank you for giving back to your community. I wish the media focused more on these aspects of school life- to encourage more programs, more funding. To show everyone the good guys win! ❤️

Kelly Turner
13 days ago
Reply to  Hailey Amick

Ah, thank you, Hailey! Yes to the good guys winning.

Christina Francis-Gilbert

Thanks for sharing this wonderful venture and its story with us! Determination and enthusiasm as well as perseverance does pay off. Congratulations on the success of your mission.

Kelly Turner
12 days ago

Thanks, Christina!

Abby
Abby
10 days ago

This is a great read. It is amazing to see a parent contribute positively to the school community. As an educator and parent, thank you for helping support your school.

Jacque
Jacque
10 days ago

I love this inspiring tale of building community at your kid’s school!

Phyllis Capanna
7 days ago

Kelly, I love this! Heather Cox Richardson, just the other day, on her Youtube channel, said now is the time to do what you do best. Your Morning Mile project shows that it doesn’t have to be related by a straight line to be helpful and good. I’m so glad you believed in yourself and did this! I’m sure the benefits for the children and the community will be long-lasting.

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