By Dustin Luca
---- — Salvatore’s Restaurant owner Sal Lupoli put himself on the map by building pizzas. Now, he’s building brains.
Members of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce gathered at Andover Country Club last week for a breakfast forum looking at how to guide the regional workforce “from preschool to prosperity.”
The forum served a dual purpose of kicking off of a collaboration between Lupoli Companies, owner of Salvatore’s Restaurant and Sal’s Pizza, and the United Way’s Brain Building campaign, which works to support and grow early childhood development programs.
“Although kids represent a very small percentage of our population toady, when you think about 10, 20, 30, 40 years from today, they’ll be sitting in your chairs,” chamber President Joe Bevilacqua told attendees. “There will be someone standing at this podium and discussing with others why it’s important to help kids learn. They’re our future.”
Susan Leger Ferraro, founder of the area childhood development programs Little Sprouts and Imajine That, said the human brain develops most rapidly in its earliest years. A child’s ability to learn at a young age has lifelong impacts that lead into the business world, since students with stronger early development perform better later on, according to Ferraro.
Mike Durkin, president and CEO of United Way of Mass. Bay and Merrimack Valley, used the example of his son, Brendan, who has Down syndrome, to demonstrate the far-reaching impact of early-childhood education.
“What Brendan’s path is on, and I swear it’s because of the right early stimulation and intervention, is being able to be to the best of his potential, gainfully employed as an employee and he’ll be a great worker for whatever organization he ends up with,” Durkin said.
Jeff Riley, the superintendent/receiver of Lawrence Public Schools, also spoke to the value of early-childhood education, drawing on his experience with the school system he took over about a year ago.
“The earlier we start with kids, the better off kids are. The research is pretty clear,” Riley said.
For Riley, the focus on early childhood development is akin to the American dream, he said.
“It only works if all kids start in the same place, if they have the access to a quality education, and until all our kids actually have the same opportunities as the kids in Andover, Methuen or North Andover, we’re not doing our jobs,” Riley said.
“Our kids in Lawrence, a lot of our kids come to this country expecting the American dream, and we’ve got to give it to them.”