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As Zoe Wells, 18, gets ready for school in the early morning, taking her sweet time as usual, her dad, James, gently keeps her on task.

The Queen of Morehead

story by Daniel Krieger

One afternoon two weeks before homecoming, James Wells arrived at Rowan County High School to pick up his daughter Zoe and received some surprising news. Zoe, an 18-year-old senior who has Down Syndrome, was just nominated by the students as a candidate for homecoming queen.

“I was shocked," says her mother, Delrita Wells. She'd always seen homecoming queens as different from her Zoe, whose congenital disorder causes mental impairment. But after thinking about it further, the choice made sense to Zoe's parents, whose patience seems infinite. After all, they recognized, she's really popular.

School principal Ray Ginter agrees. "She 's loved," he says. "I never see her walk down the hall without being in somebody’s arms."

Morgan Crawford, who is 17 and a senior, says that while Zoe can at times be hard to deal with, as are many teenagers, she's authentic and sweet. "She’s definitely a lover," she says. "She either gives me a hug or a high-five when I see her."

One buddy Zoe sees daily is Abby Caudill, a peer tutor for special education kids. A 16-year-old junior, Abby helps Zoe with math, writing and whatever she needs. "If I'm having a bad day," Abby says, "I look forward to seeing her."

The peer tutors help with socializing beyond the classroom, explains Zoe's teacher Judy Bailey, whom Zoe also adores. “Mrs. Bailey is marvelous, marvelous," she says.

She is pleased with Zoe's "astounding" progress over the past three years and sees her working part-time in the future. Like Zoe's parents, she's invested in helping her reach her full potential and helped get Zoe on the bowling team.

“Our community is just so accepting and they embrace Zoe," her mother says. "This town has watched Zoe grow.“ Her parents always include her in all they do, taking her to parades, festivals and school events, like the homecoming football game.

And one night last fall, standing on the field at halftime at Vikings homecoming with her escort and among a dozen candidates, Zoe was crowned homecoming queen. Half of the students had voted for her, a much wider margin of victory than usual, says the principal.

“The fact that she won really says something about the community,“ her father says. “They see Zoe for who she is – as an individual."


Zoe Wells, 18, waits for her dad in the car before heading to school at dawn.


Zoe Wells, 18, is led by her teacher, Judy Bailey, to her classrom at Rowan County High School, after the handoff from her dad, James. "When she won Homecoming Queen, I was overjoyed and tearful," she says. "These are my kiddos. It wouldn't have been any more special if my own flesh and blood had won."


Zoe Wells, 18, clowns around with her buddy Emily Jessie, 16, in her classroom at Rowan County High School, as they wait to go on a class trip.


Katina Solis, one of Zoe's teacher aides, helps her get breakfast at the cafeteria before class. In addition to Zoe's teacher, there are four teacher aides and four peer tutors in her special ed class of ten children, allowing for a highly personalized educational atmosphere.


Zoe Wells, 18, cracks jokes with one of her favorite peer tutors, Abby Caudill, 16, who is accompanying Zoe in a child development class at Rowan County High School. "Everybody loves Zoe," she says.


Zoe Wells, 18, shares a tender moment with one of her best buddies in class, Emily Jessie, 16. "Zoe is like a mother hen to Emily," Mrs. Bailey says.


Zoe Wells, 18, examines an envelope sent home from school in her bag containing a certificate from the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, officially recognizing her homecoming queen victory. "It was super overwhelming for me as a mom," Delrita Wells says. "The kids at school treat her like anyone else, which speaks volumes about our community and our kids at school."


Zoe Wells, 18, at home during dinner with her parents as her mother, Delrita, comforts her when the topic of her deceased bowling coach, Keith Prater, comes up.


Zoe Wells, 18, at Larry Wilson Lanes on the MSU campus, after hitting 114, one of her all-time highs. A member of her school's bowling team, Zoe loves the sport. "When I watch her bowl," says Judy Bailey, her teacher, "I'm like, 'that's my girl.'"

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