01 Oct 2022

First Down Syndrome graduate from Scoil Chriost Ri Katie Flanagan voted Debs Queen

First Down Syndrome graduate from Scoil Chriost Ri Katie Flanagan voted Debs Queen

Katie Flanagan, the first student with Down Syndrome to graduate from Scoil Chríost Ri at her Debs

A Laois student who has battled the odds to reach her Leaving Cert exams, was overjoyed to be crowned Debs Queen this week.

Katie Flanagan, 19, from Stradbally, is the first student with Down Syndrome to sit her Leaving Certificate at Scoil Chriost Rí in Portlaoise.

Along with over 100 other girls from the school, she went to her Debs Ball last week in The Bridge House Tullamore, but was shocked when she and her escort, brother Aaron, 16, were announced as the King and Queen, as voted by her classmates.

"That was the best part of the night, going up on the stage and sitting on thrones. Everybody clapped. I was so happy, not a bit nervous," Katie told the Leinster Express afterwards.

Her parents Geraldine and Fergus had pulled out all the stops for her Debs night, with 40 people gathered to celebrate with champagne at the family home.

"I wore a red dress with lots of sparkles, I got my spray tan and my make-up, hair and nails done, and I danced all night until 6am, I never got tired," a delighted Katie said.

She sat the Leaving Cert Applied exams and is "not nervous" at getting her results on August 16, having achieved six honours in her Junior Cert.

"I did my best. I hope to study childcare, I love being around kids," said Katie, who has two younger sisters Emily, 14, and Rachel, 12.

She will miss her school.

"I loved school, I will miss my friends and the teachers, and our lunchtimes together, but I have great memories and we are going to meet up every month," she said.

Her mother Geraldine is proud of her.

"We are proud as punch of her, the sky's the limit. We always said we wanted Katie treated no differently. She had a very bad start in life, she was in hospital for her first year, on a ventilator, we thought she would never survive. She had open heart surgery. Two years ago she had two hip operations but she went to school in a wheelchair and never missed a day. She loves new challenges, she is full of life and enthusiasm," she said.

She believes that Katie is an example for others with any disabilities.

"Katie plans to go to the National Learning Network for a three year course, and after that to Trinity to study childcare, they have great courses for people with special needs. Carlow is an option as well. In a PLC Katie would have no assistance. We pushed for the Leaving Cert Applied course and Katie's is the first year to have it. It gives a great opportunity for others with special needs, or who are not academic. Scoil Chriost Ri was excellent, from Katie's SNA Liz to the principal and all the staff. Katie was included in everything. It is a great achievement for them too," Mrs Flanagan said.

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