Bullying in schools is not unheard of.
For some, the bullying does not last very long. But for others, the bullying lasts for quite a while.
Makenna Marsh’s experiences belong in the latter category.
It all began when the Redmond resident was in middle school. She began receiving anonymous hate mail online and notes in her locker. She initially tried to tell administrators at her school but there was nothing they could do at the time.
Marsh was a student athlete and it soon became clear that the people picking on her were some of her teammates. She felt like it was her own fault and didn’t want to tell anyone.
The bullying continued through high school and got so bad at one point that Marsh missed about four weeks of school her freshman year because she was terrified to go to school. By the time she reached her senior year in high school, she decided to transfer from Cedarcrest High School in Duvall to Cedar Park Christian in Bothell, where she graduated from last year.
SHARING HER STORY
Despite how deeply the bullying had affected Marsh when she was younger, the 18-year-old is now working to try and prevent what happened to her from happening to other young people.
When she was 16, Marsh started Makenna’s Reflections of Hope, through which she has shared her experiences with bullying with students from second grade to high school. Since she started this work a year and a half ago, she has visited 26 schools throughout the Puget Sound area, including Seattle, Kirkland, Woodinville and Lynnwood. Marsh gives presentations, sharing what she went through and giving students in elementary and middle school small mirrors on which they can write brief messages to themselves they can reflect on such as “I’m loved” or “I’m funny.”
Marsh said the mirrors are something she wished she had when she was younger.
At the high school level, she shares more specific details about what happened to her — how she was told that nobody wanted her around or to live and that she should just go away.
While Marsh was reluctant to tell anyone about the bullying she experienced, she eventually told her grandmother what was happening because she wanted to stop sports and switch schools and knew she would need to explain why.
“It was really difficult to talk about it at first,” Marsh said.
She said her grandmother helped her when she told her parents, who were very supportive.
When Marsh speaks at schools, she also wants to get across the importance of talking about being bullied. She added that she is OK with talking about her experiences now but when she’s in front of students, she admits to getting a weird feeling about things. She said it’s nice that that part of her life is over with but she still can’t believe people put her through all of that.
THE UPS AND DOWNS OF TEEN PHILANTHROPY
The work Marsh has been doing through Reflections of Hope has been on a volunteer basis.
“I just do it,” she said.
As a freshman at Cascadia College in Bothell, she is enrolled in prerequisite classes and would like to to go into public speaking or marketing. She added that she would like to turn Reflections of Hope into a nonprofit.
In addition to the speaking engagements at schools, Marsh said Reflections of Hope also works to raise money for Acres of Diamonds, a transitional housing shelter for women and their children in Duvall, and provide toiletries and other essentials to Hopelink’s transitional housing in Redmond.
This being said, Marsh’s main focus is speaking at schools. But as a student herself, figuring out the logistics and scheduling that will work for her as well as the schools has been a challenge.
She said her favorite part has been seeing the transformation in the students she speaks to. At first, the students tend to be shy and quiet, but by the end of her presentation, Marsh said they are more open and giving her hugs. This is what makes her want to continue this work.
While adults such as her parents and school teachers and administrators are very supportive of what she does, Marsh admits she does receive some skepticism from high schoolers as they often wonder what she’s doing. Despite this, a lot of teens have reached out to Marsh after she has spoken at their schools, texting her on a phone she has specifically for this reason. She said teens contact her about harassment they have received, ask for advice on how to tell the adults in their life and more. Marsh said she is careful not to become too involved but does let them know that she is there for them.
GROWTH FOR ALL
When Marsh was being bullied at school, in addition to switching schools, she deleted her various social media accounts and even got a new phone and number. Because she had cut herself off from her bullies, they had no way of reaching her.
So they texted Marsh’s mother.
Around graduation time last year, they told her mother that they wanted to speak to Marsh. Their response to the young women was that they did not want to hear anything they had to say if they were going to continue to pick on Marsh. However, this was not why Marsh’s former teammates had reached out to her.
“They apologized after graduation,” she said.
Marsh said they wanted to tell her they were sorry for what they did and they regretted their actions.
While they may not be friends in real life, Marsh, who has since returned to the world of social media, said she and her former bullies do follow each other on Facebook so now they can see the work she has been doing as a result of how they treated her.