Baker all smiles after prom queen crowning

By Bryan Richardson

It’s good to be queen. An audience of Kristyn Baker’s peers witnessed her coronation at Manhattan Town Center on Saturday.

Baker, who has Down syndrome, was named prom queen at Manhattan High’s prom.

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes mental, physical and developmental delays.

The prom king was Joe Coonrod, who is Baker’s mentor in the Interpersonal Skills (IPS) class at MHS.

The IPS class teams up a student with disabilities with a mentor who is selected based on a teacher’s recommendation, references and an interview to be in the class.

The attention from their prom coronation continued Monday. Fifty-two of their IPS classmates as well as some teachers listened to Baker and Coonrod describe the experience.

“Kristyn, you’re loving this attention aren’t you?” asked Barb Crooks, MHS special education teacher. Baker just smiled. Her classmates described the smile as contagious.

Coonrod said the prom experience was exciting, from the entrance — when nine IPS guys escorted Baker during promenade — to the announcement of the king and queen.

The prom king and queen races had six nominees each with four IPS mentors up for prom king. The senior class voted to select the royalty.

Coonrod said he had just hoped that Baker and one of the IPS mentors would win. “For me, it was more exciting when Kristyn was announced queen,” he said.

Baker described the experience through her smiles, often putting her head on Coonrod’s arm when really excited. For example, a classmate saying Baker and Coonrod make a wonderful couple brought on that reaction.

Jamie Schnee, a para-educator in the class, said Baker sometimes talks more depending on the day. Baker only provided a few shy “yeah”s to questions Monday.

Schnee said her communication may not be 100 percent, but she’s just like everybody else.

“She may not be able to express her emotions through words, but she’s a smart girl,” she said.

Baker’s classmates describe her as a “really kind person” who does “lots of hugging” and “brightens everyone’s day.” 

“You can’t help but smile,” one classmate said. “When you’re sad, she makes you happy.”

Schnee said Baker “packs a lot in a small package.” Baker participates in Special Olympics and showcases her singing in the annual MHS “America’s Got Special Talent” show.

Schnee said Baker sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” this year, complete with a Dorothy costume. “She has a very bold personality,” she said. “That’s what sets her apart from people, not her disability.”

Baker also had a chance to dance at Saturday’s prom.

“Probably the coolest thing of the night is after she was named queen, we danced to ‘Just the Way You Are’ by Bruno Mars,” Coonrod said.

An excerpt of the lyrics: “And when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for a while. ‘Cause girl, you’re amazing just the way you are.”

“It’s good to see she’s not just a queen for this class,” Schnee said. “She’s everybody’s queen.”

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