JOLIET – “Who is the king of the school? It’s me!”
Despite the fact that Joliet Central High School prom was May 13, Noah Baker, 18, of Joliet, still is elated with his title of “prom king,” a bliss that’s unlikely to diminish anytime soon.
And if anyone deserved to be prom king, said Sara Koziol, Baker’s peer trainer with the Adaptive Vocational Academic Center program at Joliet Central, it was Baker.
“He’s given so many smiles and laughs to so many people,” Koziol said, “I thought I owed him for all the happiness he’s brought to everyone else.”
But the title wasn’t given to this special-needs 18-year-old. Baker had to work for it and he came against some formidable competition. Patty Edwards, adapted physical education teacher, who asked Koziol if she would run with Baker, said 10 of the most popular boys at the high school also campaigned.
But like Koziol, Edwards believed Baker and the title were a regal fit.
“He has a spirit that instills inspiration in everyone he encounters,” Edwards said. “He’ll say, ‘Hello’ to you and be friendly, and if someone is missing from my class, he always welcomes them back by saying, ‘We missed you. You’re part of the JT family.’ He makes everyone feel special.”
Noah has Williams syndrome, a genetic condition that is present at birth and can affect anyone. About one in 10,000 people worldwide and 20,000 in the United States have the syndrome, according to the Williams Syndrome Association website.
In addition to medical problems, developmental delays and learning disabilities, people with the syndrome also have keen verbal and social skills and a high affinity for music. In fact, music therapy, starting at Troy School District 30-C and continuing through high school, has benefited Baker, said his mother, Sue Baker.
Although the syndrome itself wasn’t immediately apparent, Sue knew something was different about this fifth son out of six children, Sue said. Finally, she took her son to a specialist at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
The specialist wanted to do genetic testing. It turned out he was an expert in Williams syndrome. One hallmark of the syndrome is excessive friendliness, which Noah certainly has. He knows everyone and everyone knows him.
“It’s like walking around with Mick Jagger,” Sue said.
An entire team helped Noah plan and promote his prom king campaign. Edwards said AVEC teacher Jim Burkey made posters, which Koziol distributed around the school. Koziol also continued the “Vote for Noah” campaign on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Noah distributed cookies his family baked and delivered his oft-repeated tagline: “Hashtag vote for Noah.” He and Koziol wore matching T-shirts that read #voteforNoah.
“Next thing I knew, I was hearing feedback from kids at Minooka and Joliet West,” Koziol said. “It spread like wildfire.”
Sue said Noah picked out his own tuxedo. On prom night, he presented flowers to his cousin Shannon Gallagher of Orland Park (his prom date) and to Koziol. Then came the thrilling announcement.
“This lady called, ‘Noah Baker,’ and everyone was clapping and cheering for me,” Noah said. “My friend Sara was like, ‘Noah! You won!’ It was great seeing all my friends and family being there for me.”
Koziol did not win prom queen, but to Sue, she is better than royalty.
“I can’t even say in words how kind and wonderful she was in totally being a friend to Noah in a friend kind of way,” Sue said. “She was just great.”
According to the Williams Syndrome Association at williams-syndrome.org, the following symptoms are generally characteristic of the genetic condition:
• Certain facial features – a small upturned nose, long philtrum (upper lip length), wide mouth, full lips, small chin and puffiness around the eyes.
• Heart and blood vessel problems – narrowing in the aorta producing supravalvular aortic stenosis or narrowing in the pulmonary arteries, ranging from mild to severe.
• Hypercalcemia – when present, high blood calcium levels can cause irritability or colic. Difficulties in metabolizing calcium and Vitamin D may resolve in childhood or become lifelong.
• Low birth weight or slow weight gain – may be labeled as “failure to thrive.” Adult stature is smaller than average.
• Feeding problems in infants and small children – linked to low muscle tone, severe gag reflex, poor suck or swallow abilities and tactile defensiveness.
• Dental abnormalities – slightly small, widely spaced teeth in children, and abnormalities of occlusion, tooth shape or appearance.
• Kidney abnormalities – in structure and function.
• Hernias – inguinal and/or umbilical may occur.
• Sensitive hearing – certain frequencies or noise levels can be painful and/or startling. May improve with age.
• Musculoskeletal problems – low muscle tone and joint laxity in children and joint stiffness in adults.
• Excessively social – expressive language skills, extremely polite, unafraid of strangers.
• Learning disabilities and cognitive challenges – can range from mild to severe.