It's 7:00 am and a laughing group of fifth and sixth graders is boisterously learning how to fly handmade helicopters. Retired Navy helicopter pilot Lou Fifer is at the helm, teaching the children properties of flight in a before-school Aerospace Connections in Education class funded by the Civil Air Patrol. Fifer, who dedicates himself to service in many areas, leads an extensive program of 100 volunteer tutors at Thomas Edison Language Institute, a Title 1 school. Each day he gives his undivided attention to struggling students, and one by one they begin to grow, knowing that they are valued. He is both strict and kind, sometimes wearing his flight suit to class as inspiration.
"This is a passion with me," Fifer says. "I have five successful children and I demand excellence. I like seeing the kids mature and get the concepts."
Fifer developed the tutoring program here six years ago with a focus on tutoring reading and math. Each student is classified as being in categories of green, yellow or red, with green being students performing at or above grade level, the yellow students being almost to grade level, and the red students being 1-1 Â½ years below grade level. The tutors work individually with students in the yellow category, which frees up teachers to work with the students in the red category without risking the yellow students falling behind. Having tutors in the classroom "changes the dynamic on how teachers work," Fifer says.
Since the tutoring program began the school has seen roughly an 80 point increase in API scores.
Teacher Stephanie Jones, who has had Fifer tutoring in her classroom for 5 years, says that the children will argue over who gets to work with him. "He's a successful adult who comes in and pays attention to their work," she says. "The relationship is what leads to improved academics."
Fifer spent 22 years leading a distinguished career as a Navy pilot. He used to fly an SH-3 Sea King, an antisubmarine helicopter. He was a warfare aircraft commander and flight leader, a tactical nuclear weapons delivery pilot and a combat search and rescue pilot. He's a veteran of every war that the United States has been in, from the Vietnam War until his retirement in 1994.
"I've been given over a half million dollars in scholarships so I believe it's my civic duty to give back," Fifer says. "Everything I do is public service."
Besides running the tutoring program Fifer is a commander in the Civil Air Patrol. He leads a cadet program, which is like "an aviation related boy scout troop." He helps with search and rescue and he teaches the ACE program at the school. He's also a member of the National Headquarters Surrogate Predator Squadron. With that program he regularyly travels to Las Vegas to assist in military training by flying an airplane in a manner that looks and acts like a predator drone.
He is also just shy of donating 100 gallons of plasma to BloodSource and he plays the trombone for the Sacramento Symphonic Winds, a community band.
"I have been given such a wonderful life. I have a passion to give back," Fifer says. "Every day I feel refreshed, useful and self-fulfilled."
Do you know someone who is passionate about serving the community? Please email your suggestions for the I Care column to Autumn Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org