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Mrs. Violet Valencia lives next door to Melody’s family. Melody calls her “Mrs. V” and describes her as a big, unusual woman. Starting when Melody was about two, Mrs. V took care of Melody while Melody’s parents were working or when they needed an extra hand. Mrs. V never treated Melody as a disabled child. She has always challenged Melody to learn and do things Melody didn’t know she could do. Mrs. V taught Melody how to roll over on the floor and reach for a toy when Melody was two years old. By the time she was three, Melody had learned to crawl across a room.
When Melody starts school, she knows a lot of words but doesn’t know how to read a book. Mrs. V shows her a documentary about Stephen Hawking, a man who suffers from a disease called ALS. He cannot walk or talk, but he is brilliant. Mrs. V thinks that Melody is similar to him and she comes up with a plan to give Melody more language skills. She completely redesigns Melody’s communication board with a larger variety of nouns, verbs, adjectives, numbers, phrases, and pictures of people in Melody’s life so that she can point to them with her thumb and form a sentence. Mrs. V creates flash cards and Melody learns new words every day. They get along really well and have fun spending time together.
In second grade, Melody’s teacher, Mrs. Tracy, realizes that Melody likes books, so she gets Melody some headphones and audiobooks on CD. Whenever Melody is done listening to a CD, Mrs. Tracy asks her questions about the book and Melody answers every question correctly. Melody thinks it is awesome. Things are not as good in third grade with her new teacher, Mrs. Billups. Every morning, Mrs. Billups puts on her favorite CD with children’s songs like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” and then goes over individual letters of the alphabet. One February morning, the letter of the day is B. The boring and repetitive lesson drives Melody crazy and she has a “tornado explosion.” This creates a chain reaction, causing the whole class to lose control.
Mrs. Billups calls Melody’s mother and asks her to come in. Melody points to the word alphabet on her board when her mother arrives. Her mother asks the teacher what she was teaching when all the screaming started. When Mrs. Billups tells her they were reviewing the alphabet, Melody’s mother loses her temper. She tells Mrs. Billups that Melody is extremely smart and knows the alphabet, all the sounds of the letters, and hundreds of words on sight. Melody’s mother finds out that Mrs. Billups never even read the teacher’s notes on the students from the previous year. She assesses that Mrs. Billups hasn’t been teaching or challenging the students, but is merely filling their days with meaningless exercises. Soon after, Mrs. Billings quits her job, so the class has substitute teachers for the remainder of the year.
In Chapters 6 and 7, the contrast between Mrs. V and Mrs. Billups shows the dramatic ways that adults in Melody’s life either impede or support Melody on her journey toward independence. Mrs. V is fearless, cheerful, and devoted to helping Melody develop. She believes in Melody’s intelligence and challenges her to develop new skills that give her more control over her life, such as learning to roll over or to fall safely from her wheelchair. Mrs. V’s language work with Melody gives her a greater ability to express her thoughts, desires, and experiences. In addition, she endeavors to expand Melody’s world by giving her new experiences like drinking soda and getting soaked with rain. Her approach to teaching is affectionate but tough. Melody and Mrs. V are partners in Melody’s learning, and Mrs. V provides opportunities for Melody to learn and to attempt things that she didn’t think she could do. Mrs. V’s loving and firm attitude empowers Melody.
Mrs. Billups represents the ways that adults who underestimate Melody can slow her growth and cause her enormous frustration. Mrs. Billups fails to see the students in H-5 as individuals and condescendingly lumps them together as “these children.” Her failure to read the previous teacher’s notes shows that she does not respect her students as learners. She infantilizes her students and ignores their thoughts and desires, as demonstrated by her daily routine of playing the “Old MacDonald” CD that they all hate. Unlike Mrs. V and other adults who pay attention to Melody’s needs, Mrs. Billups responds to Melody’s frustration with panic. Mrs. Billups’s helplessness when confronted with Melody’s meltdown provides a stark contrast to Melody’s mother’s reaction, which is one of calmness and understanding. While Melody’s mother and Mrs. V provide essential support for Melody, Mrs. Billups not only fails to support Melody but sometimes actively hinders her development.
These chapters illustrate a pattern in the story: things improve for Melody, but problems persist. For example, though Mrs. V’s idea for the communication board enables Melody to better express herself to others, she’s still limited to a small vocabulary. Going to school is better than staying at home, but the classroom is ugly and some of the teachers aren’t helpful. While Melody’s parents love and support her and can understand and solve certain problems, sometimes they don’t have a clue, and Melody yearns for connections outside of her family. Though Melody’s development is progressing, she still faces many challenges.