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, but I’m better known by our amazing students and families as Ms. Kelly. I’ve been working at First Impressions since 2015, and it has been my second home ever since! I am the permanent substitute teacher and administrative assistant in the front office, so you will see me in many places throughout the school. 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 and our little farm of animals.

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.

Ms. Leighty- Teacher lead/Curriculum Coordinator

My name Is Kim Leighty. I have loved teaching third grade for the last several years at FIA and am excited to transition to curriculum coordinator as part of our Admin Team. 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.

Resource Team


Justin Hubbard- Music

 Hello! My name is Justin Hubbard, and I am super excited to be the new music teacher here at FIA! My musical journey led me to pursuing a degree in Music with elective studies in Business from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, with a minor in jazz studies. When I am not teaching at FIA, I also teach private lessons at Guitar Center. The instruments include guitar, bass, piano, mandolin, and ukulele. I am also a choir director at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Hope Mills, NC, and San Isidro Catholic Church in Fayetteville, NC. I hope to instill a deep love of music with your children that will last a lifetime.

Sherry Young- Art

Hello there, I am Sherry Young, an innovative visual artist, and art teacher, now blessed to be part of the FIA family of educators.  I am grateful for the opportunity to teach and inspire our students to imagine with all their minds, believe with all their hearts, and achieve with all their might.  I received my bachelor’s degree in Art at UNCP with many courses focused on education. My classes are built around the elements of art and the principles of design to enhance whole learning and personal development.  Our projects are process-driven that allow the artist to develop their ideas and visual voice. We guide our students with a well-rounded exposure to see the beauty and possibilities all around them and tackle life’s challenges with creativity and enthusiasm, learning to think like an artist!  I’m excited about this program!  It’s a culmination of my years as an artist and years of teaching, education, and parenting!

Kate Meador- P.E.

I have been coaching here at FIA for six 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.

Lorena Hauffen (LoLo)- Spanish

Beckie Smith- Character Education

Hi! My name is Beckie Smith and it is my first year at First Impressions! I am so excited that I get to be a part of such an awesome school and that I get to help jump-start the Character Education program! I graduated from Campbell University in December of 2020 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology, with a minor in English! I am currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy through an online program with Northcentral University. I also work part-time at another school in the area and love all of the students I get to teach! In my free time I enjoy crafting, listening to true crime podcasts and cuddling with my dog; Daisy. I can’t wait to see where this year takes us! 

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 the lead of FIA’s before and aftercare program. I have been at First Impressions Academy since 2014. 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 fiance’, my family, and friends. 


Ms. Victoria

My name is Victoria Cary, and I have been with FIA for 3 years! This will be my 2nd year teaching Kinder Prep, and I absolutely love it!  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 love being in this area! In my spare time, I love to spend time with my husband Zach, and our adventurous cats, Cotton and Candy! 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

My name is Jennifer Gantt and I’m so excited to be teaching the Pre-k class this year! This is my fifth year teaching at First Impressions Academy. I am originally from Kansas where I attended Fort Hays State University and earned my bachelor’s degree. I am currently working on a Master’s degree from Strayer University. I have over 15 years experience in the Early Childhood field. I love giving children a love of learning and helping them grow. I have three children preschool age to middle school, all who attend FIA. The Army brought us to North Carolina and my family and I have made it home post Army. Outside of school I enjoy spending time with my family and traveling around the East Coast. I love being a part of the FIA family and am looking forward to an amazing school year!

Ms. Jaycee

My name is Jaycee Wooten and I am super excited to be at FIA! I am from Laurel, Mississippi but have been living in North Carolina for about two years after my husband was stationed here. I love children and am actively pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education! This is my first year as a teacher aide, but I have worked with children for about 7 years now! In my free time I enjoy relaxing with my husband and our dog, shopping, and reading. I am so excited to be a part of the FIA team this year and cannot wait to see what the year brings! 


Kindergarten Team

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 second 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.

Ms. Baker

Hi! My name is Tiffany Baker and I am so excited for my first year at FIA! This is my first year teaching kindergarten but my 8th year teaching. I’ve also taught prekindergarten for a year and 1st grade for six years.  I am originally from Pennsylvania. I have my Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education from Pennsylvania College of Technology and my Bachelors in Pre-K – 4th Grade/ Early Childhood Education from Lock Haven University. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family, being outside, and watching movies.

First Grade Team


Ms. Dodt

My name is Emily Dodt, and I am thrilled to be teaching 1st 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.

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 second year teaching at FIA, but I have a total of about 9 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!

Ms. Hyatt

My name is Jennifer Hyatt and I am thrilled to be teaching 1st grade this year at FIA! This is my 4th year as part of the FIA family, and I absolutely love teaching here. I previously taught Kindergarten for 3 years and “rolled up” with my students to 1st grade this year. 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 oldest 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. Ellie is now in Kindergarten at FIA, and our baby, Scarlett, joined us this year in the nursery. FIA is our home, and we are so excited for another year!

Second Grade Team


Ms. Runde

My name is Lauren Runde and I am so excited to be teaching 2nd grade at FIA.  This is my 3rd year at FIA and I’m so happy to be a part of the FIA family! I am originally from Kansas City, Missouri where I received my Bachelors in Elementary Education and Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from Northwest Missouri State University.  I have moved around a bit since marrying my husband, but I have spent most of my career teaching 2nd and 3rd grade. I love spending time outdoors with my husband, our two boys, and our dog, Cash.  I am looking forward to an amazing year at FIA!

Ms. Apolinar

Hello! My name is Elisa Apolinar and I am a second 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.


Third Grade Team

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. 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!

Ms. VanWert

My name is Caitlin Vanwert and I am very excited to be teaching 3rd grade at FIA. I was born and raised in Boston (my accent still comes out every now and then) but knew I wanted to move away from the city life so I ventured West to Colorado for college.  There, I met my husband and began my life as an Army spouse. After receiving my Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education we then moved to Pennsylvania where I began my teaching career in 2nd grade as well as being a long-term substitute and earned my Master’s Degree as a Reading Specialist. The next stop on our journey was North Carolina, where I taught 3rd grade in Hoke County and I am earning my Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. I do not have children, but I do have a beautiful Siberian Husky named Keira. I am excited for this upcoming school year and look forward to being a part of the FIA family!  


Fourth Grade Team

Ms. Dale

Hi! My name is Jamie Dale, and I am so excited to teach fourth grade. This is my third year at FIA. I have been a classroom teacher for the past 13 years. I have taught a variety of grades and coached middle school softball and HS cheerleading! 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 cheerleading 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!

Mr. Hernandez

My name is Robert Hernandez. I am originally from Fort Lauderdale, FL and just recently moved to Fayetteville, NC. This is my first year at FIA and I am teaching 4th grade math and science. This is my 7th actual year of teaching. My hobbies include reading, watching tv, spending time with my 2 cats, and I just recently started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I am also a black belt in karate. 

Fifth Grade Team

Ms. Smith

I’m very excited about starting my fifth 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.

Middle School Team

Ms. Reardon- Math/Social Studies

Hi, my name is Brittany Reardon and I teach Middle School Math and Social Studies! This is my third year at FIA.  I have been working in classrooms as a Paraeducator, substitute teacher, and lead teacher for the last six 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 Paraeducator, 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 babies, Jon and Finley. 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!

Ms. Preston- English/Language Arts

Hi, my name is Aurora Preston. I am originally from Ohio, but I have lived in NC for 12 years now so I’m practically a native! This will be my 6th year teaching ELA and my first year teaching at FIA. I love all things fitness, coffee, Wonder Woman and reading. I look forward to this year and all the wonderful things that await us. 


Mrs. Evanson- Science/S.T.E.M

My name is Tara Evanson and I am thrilled to be teaching at First Impressions this school year. I will be a part of the middle school team teaching science and STEM. I completed my bachelor’s degree at Penn State, master’s degree from Liberty University and have worked in education for the past 7 years. After teaching in public schools, I love the passion and creativity I am able to bring to the classroom at First Impressions. I am looking forward to a fantastic school year!

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.

Ms. Michaela

My name is Michaela Sablan and I am very excited to be an aide for our Special Education team. This is my second 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.

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