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Fish hat

East Bay Knitters honor high achieving Richmond High students with fish hats

on October 26, 2012

More than 50 Richmond High School students were honored Thursday for achieving proficient or advanced scores in math on their California Standards Test.

The “Pro-FISH-iency” ceremony, organized by the East Bay Knitters, brought students, math teachers, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, a representative from Congressman George Miller’s office and others together to celebrate the students’ success.

Their catch: a handcrafted fish hat.

Two years ago Richmond High School math teacher Lisa Holmes, said she began seeing a fashion trend on campus — animal hats — Hello Kitties and foxes — kept appearing on the heads of her students.

Holmes, who has been knitting for about five years with the East Bay Knitters, said she had recently attended a stitchers convention where she saw a pattern for a fish hat.

Taking a cue from her students she began wearing hers to school.

One day a soccer player asked her to make him one.

“And I said to him, ‘Are you out of your mind?’” Holmes said.

She said the student even said he would pay for her.

Holmes said she tried to explain how much time and patience it takes to make one fish hat and then it dawned on her:

“I would be willing to exchange my time making a fish hat for the same amount of time my students put into studying math,” she said.

She casually took the idea back to the East Bay Knitters who loved it and got to work.

Ellen Graves who is owner of Knitting the World Together, a yarn shop in Albany, said when she heard Holmes’ idea — to motivate her students in exchange for a fish hat — she put the word out to the knitter community.

That one idea spawned more than 100 fish hats — one was even sent from a knitter in Michigan, Graves said.

“Typical of all knitters, all of the hats are unique,” she said. “Part of the craft is being in the community and asking, ‘How can we support it?”

Pinned up on the classroom wall during the ceremony, the school of fish hats students could choose from was quite diverse including Nemos, trout and even some sharks among the mix.

Ninth grader Arnold Dimas was one of a handful of students who scored not just proficient, but advanced on his CSTs.

He said when he got the invitation on Monday to the “Pro-FISH-iency” ceremony, he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was excited.

Not only were the students honored with fish hats, they were invited to a lunchtime ceremony complete with pizza, homemade baked goods and even roses to mark their achievement.

“It feels really cool because it’s not everyday you’re in a VIP environment,” he said. “It feels really nice.”

Principal Julio Franco said the ceremony shows the positive effect having the community come into the schools can have.

“The East Bay Knitters donated their time and efforts to come in here to recognize our students,” he said. “That makes it really special.”

Although he said Richmond High School’s math scores have been steady, he said an overall increase in scores can take a few years and he hopes to see improvement next year.

Holmes said she recognizes that testing can be daunting for her students and has been astounded by the outpouring of goodwill from the community to honor these students.

“These are not just statistics and numbers, these are students with hopes and dreams,” she said. “This is the merging of education and the arts. For me, this is what the humanities are all about.”


  1. Amy Nichols on October 31, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    As one of the fish hat knitters, and a Richmond resident for 20 years, I very much appreciate Lisa’s creativity in encouraging her students with this unique reward! Now that the second round of rewards have been distributed, I hope the demand for them increases–in the form of motivated students in the face of challenging odds. I’ll get the kneedles clicking!

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