For a high-quality education that prepares your child for success both in the classroom and outside of it, choose First Impressions Academy in Fayetteville, NC. We keep class sizes small, and each member of our faculty is trained and has received a degree in childhood education. All of our teachers are passionate about their jobs and about helping students grow and strengthen their academic and behavioral skills. We provide preschool, grade school and middle school classes as well as clubs, activities and summer camp to keep children engaged and excited about learning all year round. We are excited to work with you and your child!

Private Preschool, Elementary & Middle School in Fayetteville, NC

Our History

First Impressions Academy was founded by Christy Pettit, when she renovated her home garage into a preschool in October 2008. After teaching for six years in three different states, she wasn’t impressed with the lack of education in preschools. She wanted to give children a quality educational foundation to properly prepare them for their educational careers. At that time, she was the sole employee and taught all of the half-day classes. Eventually, her three-year-old students were ready for kindergarten, and after completing much research on placement, the families asked Christy if she would open a kindergarten. She then began looking for commercial property, and within three months, she had her kindergarten up and running. Since then, First Impressions Academy has opened one grade per year through 8th grade ending with an amazing S.T.E.M middle school.

Our Staff

Meet our passionate, caring team of teachers!

Administration Team

Christy Pettit – Director/Founder

For as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. My career took me to various schools and gave me the opportunity to teach a variety of grades at different academic levels. Although teaching was amazing, the settings and lack of imperative core values were missing. I was not willing to give up on my dream; however, I refused to be a part of something that was broken. I had a vision, and I made it my mission to create a school that encompassed all of the components that make learning and teaching successful.

Kelly Bullard- Administrative Assistant/Permanent Substitute

My name is Kelly Bullard and I am the permanent substitute teacher and admin assistant in the front office. I started working at FIA in 2015, and it has been my second home ever since! I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Auburn University in 2012, and have since then had the opportunity to teach PreK-8th grade children. I enjoy subbing the most because it allows me to build relationships with students of all ages, as well as getting to teach all subjects. Working at FIA has by far been my favorite experience, and the kids are the biggest reason why! I love coming to work every day and spending time with them. When I’m not at work, I enjoy spending time outdoors with my husband, dog, and pig. 

Teresa Clayton- Assistant Director

My name is Teresa Clayton, and I am one of the first faces you will see as you enter First Impressions Academy. I have been with the school since shortly after it opened in 2008, when my oldest daughter attended the preschool program. As the school began to grow, I volunteered to help when I could, as I wanted the school to progress with my daughters and be the only school they attended during their elementary school years. I have worked as the administrative assistant since 2011 and later became the assistant director. I deal with every aspect of the school to help maintain the safe, loving, learning environment that my own children have been blessed to have. I am originally from New York State. My husband’s military career brought us here in 2005, and we plan on being here for quite some time. I have a passion for FIA as a parent first, and it is the reason why I chose to work here. It is truly my wish that every child should have the opportunity to have the amazing start to their education as my girls have had.

Resource Team


David Riska- Music

Hello!  My name is David Riska, and I am so excited to join FIA this year as the new music teacher!  I have always loved music, and I began to pursue my passion for music in 2008 at Southern Virginia University, a small liberal arts college in Buena Vista, VA.  I focused on vocal performance under the tutelage of Dr. Clayne Robison and his wife Vivien, and learned choral conducting from my mentor, Dr. LaRae Carter. In 2014, I graduated magna cum laude from Southern Virginia University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music.  After completing my undergraduate studies, I taught general music and chorus for three years at Roseboro-Salemburg Middle School, in Sampson County, NC.  In 2018, I took a hiatus from teaching music so that I could care for my two sweet children and enable my wife to grow her online business full-time. In addition to teaching and performing music, I enjoy running, yoga, reading, and teaching ESL online.  I am very glad to be back to teaching music again, and I hope that I can give the students at FIA the best experiences possible in the world of music!

Sara Dalton- Art

Hello, my name is Sara Dalton and  after subbing the second half of last year I am thrilled to start my first full official year at First Impressions Academy as your Visual Art’s teacher. After growing up in the area I attended East Carolina University to work on my under graduate degree and continued to work as a lifeguard and Pre-k assistant during the summer months. I fell in love with teaching children every day, seeing their growth as students but also being able to play a small part in their journey to becoming open minded and caring humans.
A required Elective credit while working towards becoming a Kindergarten teacher Lead me to fall in love with Art as well.  I read and wrote creatively for enjoyment daily but my parents had not been exposed to the Arts very often and so the story goes I wasn’t either  …I began to notice more children being shamed for being different and “thinking outside of the box” and I made a life altering choice. I had never taken a single Drawing class yet I walked into the Chairmen of the Art department and told him I wanted to change my major with one painting and one collage In hand that I had completed the semester before and said “I draw stick people”. He said you will be Ok….you have the spark children need to see … someone who truly Wants to learn something new so we will teach you something new. I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts degree in K-12 Art education and two weeks later I was hired in a year round classical school as their high school Art teacher . I became AP Studio and AP Art history certified by 2004, i  Organized graduation and prom for five years as their Senior Class advisor and had two beautiful little girls along the way.  After 16 years in education teaching high school in the county my sparkle dulled so to speak and I worried daily about my own children getting the type of education I once dreamed I could give to others.  My path thankfully brought me to F.I.A. & one walk and conversation later, I felt like I was at home! I cannot wait to add some creative spark to our already innovative little village.

Kate Meador- P.E.

I have been coaching here at FIA for five years now. I Grew up playing every type of sport I could get my hands on. Basketball became my passion and I knew that I wanted to play it collegiately. In high school I was a 4 year letter winner in Basketball, Track and Field, as well as Tennis. I received All State honors in each one. I was a McDonalds All- American Nominee and TABC All- Star my senior year. My dreams of playing D1 basketball came true and I received a Scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. While there, I helped my team to an A-10 Conference Tournament Championship, birth in the NCAA tournament, and followed that up the next years with 3 post-season births in the WNIT. While playing for the 49ers, I became a team captain my junior and senior years. Once out of school I started working for a basketball personal training facility called Accelerate Basketball. While working there I was able to work with every type of athlete ranging from our NBA clients all the way down to our 5 year olds. In the summer of 2013 I was introduced to Crossfit and quickly became hooked. Shortly after, I received my Crossfit L1 Certificate. There is much to learn in the CrossFit world and at times it can be overwhelming but that’s what continues to drive me as a coach. There’s always something else to know and another way to do something, especially when working with young kids. I love working with our FIA students and helping to instill a love for fitness and sports.

Ms. Guzman- Spanish

My name is Leysha Guzman, I was born in San Juan Puerto Rico. I received my bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and I am currently doing the master’s degree program in Education Management and Leadership. This will be my first year working at FIA. I feel very proud of being part of FIA and I am very excited to teach Spanish, my native language. I am looking forward to a fun year full of lots of learning and new adventures. My husband has been in the army for 10 years and now he is part of Civil Affairs. We have two children, a nine-year-old boy, and a two-year-old girl. I have always been committed and passionate about my work and children. I love working, jogging in the mornings, enjoying class with the children, go to the movie theaters, spend time with my family, participate in 5k runs, work out, shopping, traveling, hiking, baking, I am a latte coffee lover and I am nature lover I try to enjoy every moment, challenge myself and never give up on myself in the same way I teach my students to never give up and keep persevering.

Preschool Team & Kinder Prep Team

Ms. Kim

Hi, my name is Kim Hall and I am very excited to be teaching Pre-K. I am also lead FIA’s before care and aftercare program. This is my sixth year at First Impressions Academy. Previously I have completed a total of six years as a Family Child Care Provider, where I earned my CDA (Child Development Associates). I was an assistant  teacher for seven years at Jackson Elementary School. I love learning and have a passion for teaching children to have that same love and excitement towards learning and school. I love how rewarding it is to watch children grow and help them reach their full potential. Outside of school I enjoy spending time with my boyfriend, my family and friends. I am so excited to be part of the FIA family and am looking forward to a fantastic school year!

Ms. Lorena

Hello FIA family! I missed you all so much and am so excited to see familiar and new faces! My name is Lorena Hauffen, but the kids call me Mrs. Lolo, that’s right Mrs! As I’m back from California a newlywed! I am very much looking forward to spending time teaching and learning from you. When I am not at school I enjoy watching movies, painting, or spending quality time with the hubby. I currently have over 10 years of experience working with children of all backgrounds and ages and feel so lucky to have the opportunity to be back with my FIA family to create more memorable moments and watch your child grow and succeed!

Ms. Victoria

My name is Victoria Cary, and I am so excited to start my 1st year with FIA! I have a passion for teaching, and love watching children learn and grow! I have worked with children in many different areas such as Preschool and  Elementary School. I am originally from Virginia where I attended Liberty University and graduated with my Bachelors Degree in Family and Child Development. The Army brought my husband and I to North Carolina, and we are thrilled to be in this area! In my spare time, I love to spend time with my husband Zach, and our adventurous cat, Cotton-Eye Joe. I am looking forward to a fantastic school year! 

Ms. Imani

Hello! My name is Imani Payton. I am one of the kindergarten prep teachers here at FIA. A bit about myself: I am a former military brat so I have traveled to many states, but North Carolina is my home for 18 years now. I attended Hoke County High in Raeford and Methodist University is Fayetteville. This is my fifth year teaching, but second year teaching at FIA. I love to write poetry, read books, watch movies, and most importantly spend time with my family. I love working with children and I’m so happy to be here at FIA!

Ms. Jennifer

Hi, my name is Jennifer Gantt and I am very excited to be teaching K-Prep. This is my third year at First Impressions Academy! I am originally from Kansas where I attended Fort Hays State University and earned my bachelor’s degree. I have been working in the Early Childhood Field since I was sixteen. I became passionate about teaching when my own children became of school age. I love giving children an excitement about learning and helping them grow. My husband is stationed at Fort Bragg, which is what brought our family to North Carolina. Outside of school I enjoy spending time with my husband and three children. I love being part of the FIA family and am looking forward to a great school year!

Ms. Michaela

My name is Michaela Sablan and I am very excited to be a teacher aide for K-Prep. This will be my first year at First Impression Academy, and I am so excited! I am from Washington state and relocated to North Carolina in 2017, when my husband was stationed here! I am currently attending Western Governors University in pursuit of a BA in Elementary Education. I like to spend my spare time relaxing at home with my husband and rescue dog, Oakley.

Kindergarten Team

Ms. Hyatt

My name is Jennifer Hyatt and I am thrilled to be teaching Kindergarten at FIA! This is my Third year as part of the FIA family, and I absolutely love teaching here. I am a native of North Carolina and grew up in the mountains in beautiful Boone NC. I received my Bachelors degree in Elementary Education, with a double minor in Reading and Social Studies from Appalachian State University in 2012. After teaching 2nd grade in Harnett County, we moved to Ft Campbell KY, and I taught three years in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System. I went back to school and received my Masters degree in Educational Leadership from Concordia University in 2015. After taking some time off to stay home with our daughter Ellie, the Army brought us back to Fayetteville. I was so excited to find FIA to be able to continue my teaching career, and enable my daughter to have the best educational experience. FIA is our home, and we are so excited for another year!

Ms. Bittner

My name is Ashley Bittner and I am so happy to be back at FIA teaching Kindergarten! I taught Kindergarten previously at FIA before having my two kids, who are here at FIA as well. I am originally from Buffalo, NY but have been living in Fayetteville since 2008. I graduated from UNC Charlotte with a bachelors in Elementary Education. I taught 3rd grade for 4 years in Cumberland County Schools before coming to FIA and 1 year in 3rd grade in Charlotte, NC. On the weekends, I love spending time with my family, shopping, and baking cookies! I love to travel whenever possible and spend a lot of time at our family beach home during the summers! I am looking forward to an amazing year at FIA!


Ms. Toston

Hello! My name is Ashley Toston and I am beyond thrilled to be teaching Kindergarten at FIA this year! This is my first year as part of the FIA family, and I am excited for this new journey with your children. I recently moved to North Carolina from California. I received my bachelor’s and Master’s degree in elementary education and an administrative credential from California State University Channel Islands. I have previously taught in the California public school system as a kindergarten teacher for the last six years.


First Grade Team

Ms. Apolinar

Hello! My name is Elisa Apolinar and I am a first grade teacher. I have been teaching at FIA for 5 years; would have been 6, but took a little break after having my last baby : ) I have three young children who also attend this amazing school. I am originally from Phoenix, AZ, but have made this place home since the military moved us in 2008. On the weekends, I enjoy spending time with my family, taking my kids to the movies, JP’s, and Barnes and Noble. On my alone time I do what every mom enjoys doing, which is shopping at Target without kids, lol. FIA has been a blessing to myself and my family and I am grateful for all the amazing experiences and memories this school has created and continues to create for us. I look forward to another amazing year with the best staff and families!

Ms. Stricklin

Hi there! My name is Caitlyn Stricklin, and I am so excited to be teaching 1st grade here at FIA! This is my first year teaching at FIA, but I have a total of about 8 years total experience in the classroom. I had a baby boy over the summer, and feel so blessed to have him in my life! We moved to North Carolina from my home state, Texas, about a year and a half ago, due to the Army! I have been given so many opportunities to get classroom experience in my young years, and I feel so lucky to take advantage of that here with your children! I am an open book, so please reach out to me with whatever you may need for your children!

Second Grade Team

Ms. Runde

My name is Lauren Runde and I am so excited to be teaching 2nd grade at FIA. I am originally from Missouri where I received my Bachelors in Elementary Education and Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from Northwest Missouri State University.  I taught two years of 3rd grade in Missouri before marrying my husband and moving to Anchorage, Alaska.  During our time there, I taught two years of 3rd grade.  I have spent the last three years teaching 2nd grade in Tennessee.  I love spending time outdoors with my husband, son, and our dog, Cash.  I am looking forward to an amazing year at FIA!

Ms. Wilson

My name is Rebecca Wilson. I was born and raised in Georgia.  This is my 2nd year teaching in Fayetteville and my sixth year overall. I love the freedom and creativity that teaching at FIA allows. My classroom activities vary from day to day. I like to keep it fun and interesting! I have been married to my husband for a year now and we recently welcomed our first child in June! Clara Mae is our precious baby girl and we can’t remember what life was like without her. When I have time for hobbies, I love to sing and read for pleasure.

Ms. Bowers

My name is Breanna Bowers. I was born and raised in Idaho, but have moved around a bit in my adult life. I received my bachelors degree in Elementary Education, from BYU-Hawaii, in 2013. I had a double minor in psychology and music. I have taught Kindergarten, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, and Elementary Music. I genuinely love each grade level that I have taught for different reasons. This is my second year teaching at FIA, and I love the great teamwork and positive atmosphere that we have here. My husband and I have a one year old daughter and four year old Great Dane. As a family we enjoy hiking, camping, and spending time together.

Third Grade Team

Ms. Leighty

My name Is Kim Leighty. I love teaching third grade at FIA. My classroom and the school as a whole is truly a second family to me. Originally from California, I graduated from California State University, Chico with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Liberal Arts/Elementary Education. I began teaching in 2005. I spent most of my career between the third and fourth grades in Florida and North Carolina. While in Florida, I had the opportunity to become a registered behavior technician for an ABA company. During that time, I helped open and manage a private school for autistic students for three years before returning to a classroom of my own. My family and I love to be outdoors and take random road trips whenever we get the chance. I am looking forward to another fantastic year at FIA.

Ms. Dean

My name is MK Dean, and I am thrilled to be a third grade teacher at FIA! I moved to North Carolina a few years ago after teaching in both Tennessee and Alabama. I was born and raised in Vestavia Hills, Alabama and graduated from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education in 2013. I’ve taught grades ranging from Kindergarten to Middle School over my seven years of teaching. I recently got married, and my husband and I love cooking and being outdoors with our fur baby, Huck, in our free time. I’m so excited to be a part of the FIA family, and I’m looking forward to a wonderful year!

Fourth Grade Team

Ms. Dale

Hi! My name is Jamie Dale, and I am so excited to teach fourth grade. This is my first year at FIA, but I am. I stranger to education. I have been a classroom teacher for the past 10 years! I have taught a variety of grades and coached middle school softball and HS cheer-leading! Children have been my passion for as long as I can remember! I started babysitting at the age of 13 and that was all it took for me to realize I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children!! I am married and have three amazing children who keep us very busy. We are a softball, football, and cheer-leading family.  We love to be outside doing pretty much anything and we are HUGE Carolina Panthers fans! We love going to games, tailgating and enjoying family time together! I am so excited to add all of you to my “family”! It’s going to be an amazing year!


Fifth Grade Team

Ms. Dodt

My name is Emily Dodt, and I am thrilled to be teaching 5th grade at First Impressions Academy! I am originally from Texas, where I received my Bachelors in Education from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. I spent three wonderful years teaching kindergarten and 5th grade. The military moved my husband and I to Raeford, where we found FIA! I have taught a variety of grade levels and I am looking forward to another amazing year teaching 1st grade. I have worked with kids all my life and I love teaching. I could not imagine doing anything else. My spare time is spent with my wonderful husband, our beautiful daughter, Maggie, and son, Connor. I am glad to be a part of the FIA family and I am looking forward to another great year.

Middle School Team

Ms. Reardon- Math/Social Studies

Hi, my name is Brittany Reardon and I will be teaching Middle School Math! This is my second year at FIA.  I have been working in classrooms as a Para Educator, substitute teacher, and lead teacher for the last four years. Teaching, for me, is about igniting a love for learning within each child that comes into my room. I am originally from Colorado where I began my education at the University of Northern Colorado. After accepting a position as a Para Educator, I transferred to Grand Canyon University where I received my Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. After graduation, I began my career as a fifth-grade teacher in Cherry Creek School District in Colorado. I then joined my husband here at Fort Bragg where we now live with our fur baby, Jon. In our spare time, we enjoy being outside; paddle boarding, camping, or hiking. I am honored to be part of the FIA family and look forward to an amazing year!

Freda Smith- Language Arts/Literacy

I’m very excited about starting my fourth year as part of the FIA family.  I joined FIA last year with 28 years of experience as a North Carolina public school teacher.  I am a Fayetteville native and spent my elementary thru middle school years here.  I attended high school in Germany, due to my father being in the military.  I earned my Elementary Education degree from North Carolina Central University in Durham.  My husband of 26 years is a retired Fayetteville firefighter and we have two children.  I have always enjoyed listening to music and reading.  A new passion that I have recently developed is completing jigsaw puzzles.  I thoroughly enjoy watching others (children, and adults as well) learn and grow into the best versions of themselves.  I am looking forward to another year at FIA  as we all embark upon the teaching and learning that awaits us.

Mr. Schmucker- Science/S.T.E.M

Hello! My name is Ray Schmucker, and I am going to be teaching middle school science, STEM, and Science Olympiad. I’m originally from Pennsylvania, but I have spent most of my life in Greensboro and Raleigh. I got my Bachelor of Science (middle school science) degree from N.C. State University, and then I taught at Beijing, China for one year. I met my wife there, and we decided to live and work in America. I’ve taught middle school science for three years in Raleigh and Bladen county, and I also teach some writing classes in my spare time. I like almost anything that has to do with the outdoors or nature (Skiing, swimming, animals / pets, sports). I’m excited about this upcoming school year, and becoming part of the FIA family!

A New Leaf Academy Team

Ms. Foerster

Hi! My name is Brittney, and I am so excited to teach at FIA’s newest venture, A New Leaf Academy. My son Ethan, went undiagnosed with three types of dyslexia, ADD, and anxiety for many years. As a teaching professional helping families and personally as a mother seeking services for my son, I have seen the challenges we face as a community with a lack of services available, specifically for those with Autism and other related learning disabilities. The one thing I saw over and over again were families who needed support.

Children with Autism and those on the Autism Spectrum need therapy and an education system with a curriculum specifically designed to meet the needs of their individual abilities just as much as neuro-typical and advanced students. This is why I’m so excited to be a part of the FIA family. This is my first year at FIA but I am no stranger to teaching. The military moved my husband and our family to Raeford in 2019 from Florida. I have been teaching for the last 9 years (the last 2 years as an ESE teacher)! I graduated top 3% in my class from Florida State University in elementary education K-6th grade in 2011.

I have taught multiple grade levels, and coached middle school softball and soccer as well as coached and played adult coed/military softball. My husband and I have three wonderful children (6,11&13) who keep us very busy. We are a gymnastics, ax throwing, martial arts, wrestling, hiking, and camping loving family (son is a Junior Olympic gymnast). We love animals! One day we hope to run our own animal shelter and adoption center. We enjoy the outdoors and spending time creating new adventures together. I am so excited to be a part of the FIA family and to be a part of something new and invigorating at FIA/A New Leaf! It’s going to be an amazing year and an even more amazing future.


For more information about any of our staff, or to schedule a tour with us, contact us today at 910-339-0524!