Fort Dale opens First Flight Learning Center

Published 7:00 am Friday, October 13, 2023

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Fort Dale Academy opened its new child learning center, First Flight, this year under the direction of Cindy Watkins. The center begins childcare at six-weeks-old and continues through K-4, as previously the school began childcare at age three. The center currently has 70 children and 14 staff members with a long waiting list for the infant room. 

Watkins explained that one way First Flight differs from other daycare centers is that it is licensed through the Alabama Department of Human Resources, which requires higher standards. 

“Being state licensed requires you to have a certain amount of equipment and square footage per child,” Watkins said. “The classes have language development, curriculum, lesson plans, and activities to advance their large and small motor skills. I also bring in instructors for specialty activities like arts and crafts and painting.”

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First Flight operates from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and is open year-round. The center does not operate on the school’s calendar and does not close for extended time during holidays. Watkins said the center will also offer holiday camp for children that are a part of the after-school program throughout the year. 

Watkins has worked in childcare development for 38 years between The Sunshine House, Greenville YMCA and First Steps, in such roles as summer camp director, after school director, assistant director and childcare director of these programs. Watkins said she has enjoyed being a part of the journey of each child through the years. 

“I honestly just think it’s amazing that parents entrust us and share their children with us is pretty amazing,” Watkins said. “I had one child and would have had a house full, so getting to spend my days with other people’s children is pretty amazing. I enjoy getting to see the children from the beginning and watching them grow. I have some children here who are the babies of children I cared for years ago.”

Assistant Director and Fort Dale Alumni Laura Skipper, who has a human development and family studies degree from Auburn University, said what is most important to her is that the children are loved and that they are a family. 

“The idea was to come home to Fort Dale and start something that I thought would benefit the school, and that starts with the baby room,” Skipper said. “I love the babies. I love the joy on their faces every day, and how much they change. What we desire the center to be more than anything is a family full of love. For parents to know that when they walk in the door their baby is loved. Everything is transparent and open here.”

Watkins said First Flight will soon use a new app system that will allow them to track every baby’s activity throughout the day and instantly share information and pictures with parents. 

“It’s very important that a baby stays on a schedule,” Watkins said. “We already track these things, but the app will make it easier for parents to keep up with the schedule the child has been on all day, like when did they go to sleep, when did they wake up, when was their last bottle, what were their bathroom habits that day, how much did they eat and sleep, and we can easily send pictures and videos throughout the day.”