Kari Baldi has been a teacher at the Frazer Center for almost twenty years. During her tenure she has worked with children of every age group, but for the past thirteen years she has been a Lead Teacher with infants in the Sunshine classroom. Susie Riddick, Child Development Program Director, calls her an “infant whisperer.” You could also call her a global citizen.
Kari speaks four languages and has citizenship in three countries. Originally from Guinea in West Africa, Kari grew up speaking Pular and French. While a teenager, she spent two years studying in Cuba where she immersed herself in the Spanish language and became fluent. After returning to Guinea she earned a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology. Later she moved to Paris and became a French citizen by marriage. She and her then husband eventually moved to New York, and that’s where Kari learned English.
After a move to Maryland, Kari’s first son was born. Mamadu was six months old when the family moved to Atlanta. Kari was teaching herself about early childhood development from some French books she had on the subject. It wasn’t long before she noticed that baby Mamadu was not reaching some typical developmental milestones.
Kari’s pediatrician diagnosed Mamadu with astigmatism and myopia but said he was fine otherwise. At 10 months Mamadu became sick, and Kari rushed him to Emory for care. When she mentioned the delays she had been noticing, the doctors eventually discovered that Mamadu was born with the 5th chromosome reversed. He was only the second known child in Atlanta to have this rare disorder.
Thanks to Babies Can’t Wait, a program of the Georgia Department for Public Health that offers coordinated services for infants and toddlers with special needs, Kari found the Frazer Center. She was drawn to Frazer’s culture of inclusion and enrolled Mamadu. Because she wanted to be near her son, she applied for a teaching job at Frazer, and she was hired immediately.
Doctors told Kari that Mamadu would never walk, but she was determined to see a different future for her son. With Frazer teachers and therapists joining Team Mamadu, he was up and out of his wheelchair by the time he was 2 years old. “I think Frazer is a really special school,” she says.
With her current husband, Kari had two more sons who also went through Frazer’s Child Development Program. The youngest will start high school next year. Her middle son is at LSU studying mechanical engineering. And Mamadu is now 23 years old. He’s a graduate of Martin Luther King Jr. High School and will never be able to live independently. His family provides much of his support, and after ten years on the waiting list for Georgia’s Medicaid waiver, he is able to get professional support services.
Kari has been a U.S. citizen for about as long as she’s been at Frazer “whispering” to babies. Riddick says, “It’s her calming presence that makes such a difference in an infant classroom. She is so good at what she does.”
With her years of experience and training, Kari knows better than to offer parents unsolicited advice. But to those who ask, she usually recommends they talk and read more to their infants. It used to be conventional thought that babies did not start developing language skills until they were several months old, but the latest science tells us that the brain can begin forming neural pathways for language right from birth.
That’s why Kari regularly talks to all her babies, describing the things she is doing with them. “I love to see them progressing, learning, changing,” she says.
Kari is a big part of what makes Frazer special, and we hope she’ll keep whispering to the Frazer babies for another 20 years.