Qwen Johnson, center, reads the book ‘Lets Read Words Like Pup And Hen’ with Pablo Nieves, left, and Noah Insley on Monday at Foundation Builders Academy.

Teachers, mentors, tutors, kindergarten, high school, college: the importance of an education is taught to people nearly from birth, that learning in school will provide kids with skills to prepare them for their careers when they grow up, and to teach the values and morals of society.

While formal, structured education is important in helping children get ready for adulthood, Frenchy Davis is an advocate for the importance of play.

As CEO of the Foundation Builders Academy Childcare Development Center, Davis started the center two years ago when none of the day care centers in Edgecombe County fit what he wanted for his son. While searching, he happened to see a building for sale; he inquired about it, got it and opened his center with three kids; his center has now grown to 42 kids with licensing for another ten.

“I grew up in the projects down here in Edgecombe County,” Davis said. “I was like, well, since I’m from this area, I think I can give back to the community and open up a quality center.”

The Foundation academy works to get kids ages 1 to 5 socially and emotionally ready for being in kindergarten. They help to teach kids the foundational information, such as abcs and counting, and also work to model positive behaviors for children.

“We do a lot of modeling because children follow what they see,” Davis said. “If a student is doing something wrong, we teach them a positive thing to redirect that energy. Knowing the basic things is important, but kids need that social and emotional learning so that they’re not terrorizing the classroom.”

In the upcoming year, the Foundation academy plans to renovate its Outdoor Learning Environment playground by adding a sidewalk for tricycles and bicycles, focusing an area for sensory learning, using tires to hold plants, adding a shady area, extending the fenced-in area for more play area, building a music wall and adding a garden for the kids to take care of and get to eat out of.

“An outdoor learning space is really important for children,” Davis said. “This space gives them room for learning through natural play, by playing with each other and by engaging in the things we want to add in the next year, such as learning about healthy eating habits through the garden.”

To renovate their playground, the Foundation academy was able to apply for and receive around $20,000 in grants and donations from places such as the Nash UNC Health Care Foundation and the Down East Partnership for Children. The Nash UNC Health Care Foundation has an annual grant process that allows them to typically donate around $200,000 to organizations and nonprofits that apply and align with the mission of UNC Health Care to support health and wellness in the community.

“We’re very excited for the partnership with the Foundation,” said Kathleen Fleming, development officer with the Nash UNC Health Care Foundation. “We were able to donate $10,000 to them to use to get the kids that come through here off on the right foot, and make them healthier adults in the long term.’’

The academy announced plans for the playground renovation on Monday with a small kickoff ceremony hosting parents of the kids, staff members, representatives from the grant partnerships, state Rep. Shelly Willingham, D- Edgecombe, as well as Ron Green, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of the Tar River Region, who was master of ceremonies for the event.

“What Frenchy is doing with this center is wonderful,” Green. “He’s teaching these kids not only academic material, but socialization and physical fitness and how to be healthy and eat properly, which is especially important since the demographics of the area he’s serving struggle with health disparities from poor nutrition.”

He added that programs such as these that focus on child learning and development through play and positive behaviors were especially important as feeder programs for the Boys and Girls Clubs, which can accept kids when they turn 5 years old.

“Frenchy was in the Boys and Girls Club, and it’s so amazing to see him turning around and applying the principles he learned from the Club, in terms of teaching kids and helping them develop a healthy lifestyle,” Green said.