If you passed fifth-grader Melanie Pinedo-Santos in the hall of her school, you might reasonably assume she’s a happy, healthy and slightly shy 11-year-old girl just like any other.
But as a book gives you the most important stuff only after the cover, in passing, you’d miss Melanie’s budding art passion and love of Michael Jackson, an interesting artist choice given her age and quiet temperament.
And you might not know about what happened last Friday, when Melanie learned that the Make-A-Wish Foundation had donated a trip to Walt Disney World to her and her family. The trip will begin this weekend.
She’d tell you they kind of sprung it on her.
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As Melanie approached the Winwood Elementary School gym Friday afternoon, the roar of applause from her classmates and family instensified as she ducked back into the hall.
With coaxing from Principal Leah Copeland, the girl inched back toward the festooned gym.
The Winnwood Elementary School staff also doubles as Melanie’s Fan Club. That day, they all wore matching black shirts with a silhouette of Melanie’s favorite artist in the iconic en pointe stance.
Melanie’s Fan Club was organized after the girl was diagnosed with an advanced brain tumor last July. Copeland said the fan club was formed not only to support her family as they navigate the illness but also to celebrate a remarkable student.
Even with her radiation regimen, in which she undergoes treatment almost once every two weeks, Melanie’s still coming to school every day, Copeland said.
“She has better attendance than some of the other students,” Copeland said.
Her teacher, Andrew Puett, said he and the rest of the staff have worked to build a relationship with her family that both accommodates their wishes for privacy and celebrates her life.
“It’s about making memories here and now that last,” Puett said.
On the family side of things, Melanie’s father, Esteban Pinedo, said he does everything he can to maintain a strong sense of normalcy in his daughter’s day-to-day life. He said Melanie has been feeling good lately, and she looked ready to take the famed Magic Kingdom by storm.
Melanie said her big focus is on being happy and continuing to improve as a vocal and visual artist.
“You have to be happy no matter what,” she said.
Indeed, her quick-to-smile, low-key demeanor speaks to nothing but the constellation of friends and family focused on making her life meaningful and happy, however possible.
In fact, when people learn that Melanie has a brain tumor or is ailing in some way, she said they rarely believe it.
Given who she is, you might see why.