Melody explains what life is like at Spaulding Street Elementary School, where she is now in the fifth grade. A special bus with a wheelchair drives Melody to school everyday. Once she arrives, she sits in the waiting area and watches other children playing. She has been at the school for five years, and in that time she has watched, and been ignored by, most of the children at the school. Although she sees the general education students (the “regular” students) every day and watches them play, they never invite her or any of the other students with disabilities. Melody feels invisible.
Although Melody technically attends an elementary school with students of all abilities, she is essentially excluded from all activities not specifically targeted towards students with disabilities, and she isn’t a part of the wider student community. This passage emphasizes how isolating Melody’s disability is. The able bodied children clearly don’t understand that their exclusion of her is hurtful.
Melody is in a special program called a “learning community,” with other students her age with disabilities. Although she was excited at first when she was enrolled in school, Melody often feels that she has learned more from television documentaries than from her teachers. She has stayed in the same classroom the whole time she’s been at school, and it’s painted in colors that she feels are babyish. Many of her school activities are too easy for her. Melody especially hates one winter tradition of decorating a six-foot-tall Styrofoam snowman named Sydney, which the children in H-5 are forced to play with and decorate.
Although Melody is technically at school, her education is not as comprehensive at it would be were she in the general education classes. The curriculum and activities assume Melody’s mind is as underdeveloped as her body, which is obviously not the case. It’s tragic that Melody must do most of her learning from television, which, significantly, is unable to discriminate against her because it is not human. Thus, television treats Melody like an able bodied kid, and, as such, it expands her mind.
Some of the other children in Melody’s learning community like Sydney, but most of them are frustrated by the snowman. Melody introduces her fellow students and their responses to Sydney. Ashley and Gloria don’t like it, Carl sticks pencils and rulers in it, Willy tries to knock it down, and Freddy and Jill don’t have strong opinions on it. Willy would rather talk about baseball than play with Sydney, and Freddy would rather zoom around the room in his wheelchair. Melody hates the snowman, but has decided that trying to participate and help decorate it is easier than fighting her teachers.
As she often does, Melody makes a personal concession, by decorating the snowman, rather than making her own life more stimulating and enjoyable. She understands the cost of “rocking the boat,” and decides that in this situation it’s easier to go along with the teacher’s plans. Significantly, it’s not just Melody who hates the snowmen—the other kids in her class seem not to like it either. This shows that Melody’s intelligence and desire not to be condescended to are true of many people with disabilities, not just Melody.
Melody has a communication board, a Plexiglas tray that has words written on it that attaches to her wheelchair. By pointing to certain words and phrases she can communicate basic thoughts, but she needs more. She jokes that she can understand why people think she’s stupid, because she doesn’t have the ability to say very much at all. She also explains that some people think she’s “retarded,” but clarifies that she hates that word. She isn’t dumb; she’s trapped inside of her own mind.
Although Melody can communicate with her board, the words on it represent only a tiny fraction of all that she wants to say. By limiting her speech, it also limits what other people think of her; the handful of words on the board can make it appear that those are the only words she knows.