kindergarten

Make the Most of Your Parent-Teacher Conferences: For Parents AND for Teachers

little cute boy in glasses with young real teacher, classroom studying

For Parents:

Before

Consider your compliments, questions and concerns – It is nice to be able to greet your child’s teacher with something pleasant. Conferences are also a time to share your concerns about your child, the class or the school, and to ask any questions that you have. It’s best to be prepared. Take a few days to think about this, and jot yourself a few notes.

By the time your child is in grade school, ask if they have any compliments, questions or concerns – I started asking my children this before conferences when they were in preschool. Their inputs became helpful around third grade.

Know the time limits and be on time – Know that this is a full day for your child’s teacher. At many schools, conferences are scheduled back to back. Be on time. If it becomes apparent that you need more time, ask to schedule a follow up phone call or conference.

Go prepared – It’s good to have a pencil and paper with you (or notes on your phone IF you can really narrow your focus to notes). If you are a note taker, feel free to take notes throughout the conference. Even if you aren’t, you might need to jot down a book title or important dates.

During

Follow the teacher’s structure – Hopefully the teacher will let you know an outline of the time available. Please respect that outline.

Listen with an open mind – This is a time for your child’s teacher to share about your child’s strengths and any concerns in the classroom. This is also a time for the teacher to make recommendations for school and home about how to work on and improve any areas of concern. This may be difficult to hear. It is important to keep an open mind and really listen.

Ask yourself, does that sound like my child – Hopefully, your teacher is pausing to ask you at least occasionally if this sounds like your child. It can be helpful to know going in that many children behave differently at home than they do at school. It is normal. It’s still good to consider where there is overlap.

Participate in discussion of any recommendations – When there are concerns, teachers should be making recommendations of things that may be helpful to do at home and in the classroom to best address the issue. It is helpful if parents add ideas, note what has or hasn’t worked before, and make suggestions for classroom (know that these may or may not be taken for a range of reasons).

Even when there is a disagreement, err on the side of support – You may entirely disagree with particular feedback you are getting. It is fine to say that you disagree. Also remember the point above, your child may be functioning differently at school than at home. It can be helpful to still take note and commit to further observation or investigation. When there is debate, you might ask if another teacher or guidance counselor could also observe and weigh in. You might ask the teacher to provide the related recommendations and continue to track progress so you have more time to consider. Err on the side of finding beneficial ways to learn more and move forward together.

Consider any suggested screenings or evaluations – Again, keep an open mind. Screenings or evaluations often provide beneficial answers, and may connect children to valuable services. Here are helpful ways to think about early evaluations and intervention.

If you aren’t taking notes on your phone, turn your phone OFF – This is your child. This is your child’s teacher sharing time and valuable information.

After

Follow through on recommendations – If there are areas of concern, it is so helpful to follow through with recommendations. If they are beneficial, your child is ahead. If they don’t work, at least you can rule out the approach.

Schedule screenings or evaluations – Some evaluations take just a few days to schedule. Others can take several months. Good to make phone calls within a day or two.

Note follow up questions and concerns – As you work on recommendations or observe your child, it can be helpful to take notes on progress and jot any questions that come up.

If needed, schedule a follow up phone call or conference – It is fine to request to touch base with teachers moving forward.

For Teachers:

Before

Encourage parents to be prepared – When you announce conference times, it is nice to give parents a bit of guidance. This might be encouraging them to think about their questions and concerns, or letting them know the outline of your time at conferences (below).

Prepare yourself – Plan in depth for each conference. Consider individual strengths and any concerns for each child. Review your recommendations, and talk out loud through any potentially difficult conversations you are aware of.

Bring props – This might be a few photos of a recent class activity, or the products of a class project. It can be nice to have something to show as part of your greeting.

Bring things to send home – This might include the weekly or monthly plans, a lunch calendar or any of the student’s recent art. It might be best to save this as a transition to mark the end of the conference.

Bring examples of any strengths or concerns that you can – If you are going to make a point about the child’s drawing or writing, bring a sample.

Set start and end times (with at least 5 minutes between) – However long your conferences are set for, clearly share the start and end time with parents.

Send reminders – Everyone is so busy these days, good to send several reminders.

Bring extra paper and pencils – It’s nice to have these on hand to offer parents if they’d like to take notes.

Bring tissues – Someone may cry.

During

Stay on schedule – If you find you need more time, it’s best to schedule a follow up phone call or conference.

Take a few notes throughout the conference time – For the teacher, taking a few notes helps to keep the conversation on track.

Slow down – This is important information for parents. You are sharing about how their child is doing in school, and possibly sharing new concerns. It is helpful to slow down particularly when speaking about concerns and recommendations.

Speak plainly – It’s best to avoid any educational jargon.

Let parents know the order of the conference – Once you’ve greeted parents, it can be helpful to let them know the order of the conference. For my conferences, this would be first sharing strengths, then discussing any concerns and recommendations, then opening the time to answering parents questions. Parents may be able to better relax and listen once they know there is time built in for questions.

Within strengths – Plan to share two or three strengths. One can be a personality trait. Aim for the next one or two to be new skills or growing abilities. Be sure to have an anecdote or work sample to support each point.

Within concerns – You may not have concerns for all of your conferences. For the ones that do, limit to two or three concerns. Again, be sure to have an anecdote or work sample to support each point. Take care to word your concerns in hearable language, meaning they’re stated in a positive way. Rather than starting with, “John is being so aggressive when he is angry,” you might say, “we are working on having John use gentle hands even when he is angry.” You can go on to talk about the aggressive behavior. Be sure that for every concern you have, you have at least four recommendations readily available for how to work on the area of concern. This should include at least two ways to address this at school and two ways at home.

Ask if they share the same view – It can be helpful for strengths and concerns to at least occasionally ask if parents have seen this at home or if it sounds familiar. This brings the parent into the conversation, so it’s not a one-sided listing.

Recommendations – The reason for having at least four recommendations available is, during the conference some of your recommendations may be knocked out. Parents may let you know that something’s already been done, or why it likely won’t work. You might still try it, or you might decide to take it off the list. The point is that recommendations are a work in progress. It is good to ask parents what they think about the recommendations, and if they have any ideas to add for school or home. Recommendations might include having a related screening or evaluation.

Avoid all diagnostic language – When listing concerns and recommendations, avoid making, or guessing, at any diagnosis. Rather than giving a label to your concern, focus on fully describing the concern, any related behaviors you are seeing and any impact on the child. Avoid saying you “suspect a language delay,” rather explain your concerns about the language you are hearing and gives examples. Any impact might include the child’s own frustration in communicating, or missing out on play because the others often don’t understand his speech if this is what you are seeing. It is fine to talk about developmental expectations if you have a good reference point.

If you are recommending a screening or evaluation, helpful to provide parents a list of providers – If you are suggesting a Speech/Language evaluation, it’s helpful to give parents a list of area providers. Given the list, parents are more likely to make the contact.

Within questions – Be open to all questions. If you can’t provide an answer, note the question and make a plan to contact parents once you have an answer.

End on a positive – Plan ahead to end on a positive note. It’s all the better if this can be in addition to the previously listed strengths.

After 

Note if there are disagreements, upsets, unanswered questions, a need to schedule a follow-up conference or anything else that seems important – This is best done immediately after the conference. Take notes when your memory is fresh. Write this in objective language.

Follow through on recommendations – Move forward with fully implementing recommendations.

Note follow up questions or concerns – As you work on recommendations or observe the child, it can be helpful to take notes on progress and jot down any questions that come up.

If needed, schedule a follow up phone call or conference – If there were any recommendations made, it’s good to schedule a time to follow up. This will help everyone be accountable, and let’s you discuss any changes or additional recommendations that need to be made.

 

Please Don’t Worry About Labels or Early Services – Embrace Them

preschool teacher and child giving high-five

I work as a school and developmental psychologist at a few private schools and in my outside practice. In this role, there is a great deal of effort put into directing families to appropriate assessments and matching children with valuable services. While I understand a parent’s hesitation at the process (it’s big), and their worry about labels (they stick), the information gained about a child and the beneficial services that often become available in the process far outweigh the concerns.

I can see how the evaluation process is intimidating. You are taking your child to see an unknown professional for a series of unfamiliar evaluations. Even on the easy end for a speech and language screening, a parent doesn’t know what to expect. On the hard end, a full educational and psychological evaluation can take three or four long visits. The happy news is that some evaluations are fun for young children. A full evaluation may include puzzles, mazes and word games. An OT’s office looks like an indoor playground. In most cases, you will likely meet a professional who really enjoys working with children and makes the process as comfortable as possible.

Evaluations can also be expensive. If you are looking at an evaluation through the public school system the cost is covered. Private evaluations can range from a hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on the level of investigation. Some Universities and hospitals also provide these services. Universities with graduate student evaluators often work on a sliding or reduced scale. Hospitals often work in an easier way with insurance coverage.

And then there’s the labels. If you are using a private evaluation, it is up to the parents to share or not share the information that follows. I’d encourage you to share though, because a lot of the point is providing information to your child’s teachers and other professionals to make better informed decisions, determine placement and provide an individualized plan. If you are using the public school system and accept services, that does become a piece of your child’s records. That said, the services are often very helpful. The services are also flexible, meaning children test in and out of services with evaluations provided on a regular schedule. Parents can also advocate for changes as their child participates in the system.

I want parents to think of the labels as keys to unlock the door to better services and individualized instruction. The labels also give parents a specific thing to focus on, learn about and support that hopefully replaces the broad concerns they had previously.

There are a few other important differences between the public and private evaluations. The central focus of evaluations offered through the public system is to determine if the child’s concerns meet the criteria for their services and programs. The goal is to prepare children for success in school and best meet their academic needs. The focus is not to provide a diagnosis or recommendations for success at home.

Meeting the criteria for services and programs can be a high bar. When a child qualifies through the public system, it seems safe to assume it is at least a moderate rather than mild concern. So if qualifying points to at least a moderate concern, I strongly encourage parents to take any services that are offered. When a child doesn’t qualify, it doesn’t automatically mean your child won’t benefit from services. There may very well be a concern that should be addressed, but it leaves it up to the parents to address it through a private provider.

Private evaluations are focused on deciding the level and area of all concerns, providing diagnostic language where it is appropriate and giving a broad range of recommendations for home and school success.

While private evaluations provide a wealth of information, they may not be seen as sufficient for qualifying for public services. Often, schools will take outside testing into consideration, and will add their own pieces or provide whole additional assessments to give further evidence.

Whether an evaluation shows no clear concerns and you are given a few ideas of how to address the original concern, or your child qualifies for support services, or there is a specific diagnosis, the evaluation itself is helpful. You are gaining valuable information about your child, and are in a better informed position to make decisions and provide support moving forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting at a New School this Fall?

Back to school

Whether your child is starting at a new preschool or elementary school, the first day can be daunting. There are several things you can do over the summer months to help prepare for the first day.

  • Visit the school’s website – Explore the website with your child. Point out pictures of happy children and read about fun yearly activities. Look for pictures of your child’s teacher or classroom.
  • Play on the school’s playground – If it’s available, playing on the school’s playground can build happy memories during the summer that might carry over to the fall.
  • Plan playdates with future classmates – If you have a class list, start contacting families over the summer to play or meet at the pool. If there’s no class list, you might ask neighborhood families if they have or know other children starting at the school. It can be so helpful to see a familiar face on the first day.
  • Attend all back-to-school nights and visit-the-classroom opportunities – This is partly to support your child’s gradual entrance to the new school, and partly to be sure you are an informed parent. Often teachers review school policies and give important information at these events. The more you know about the school the better.
  • Review the drop-off and pick up policies and have a plan for separation as needed – Share the plan for drop-off and pick-up with your child. As best you can, be sure they know where to go and what to do. If your child tends to have separation anxiety, it’s good to know the school’s policy for this as well. Here is a link to a blog post about separation: https://parentingbydrrene.com/2012/07/23/tips-for-separation-at-the-start-of-the-school-year/. Here is a link to a 20 minute podcast (#341) I gave on managing separation anxiety: http://www.parentsperspective.org/index.php?s=separation.
  • Re-establish bedtime and mealtime routines – If you’ve lost a sense of routine, it’s good to rebuild this at least several days before school starts. If children are allowed to stay up late and sleep in the day before school, getting up and getting ready on time can be that much harder. If your kids are grazers over the summer months, it can be helpful to get back to regular meal and snack times as well.
  • Remind them of other positive transitions they’ve made or you’ve made – Remind them how much fun they had when they started at a new camp last summer or when they joined a new soccer team. Tell upbeat stories about when you started school.
  • Read upbeat children’s storybooks about the start of school –   Upbeat books include DW’s Guide to Preschool by Brown, What to Expect at Preschool by Murkoff,  If You Take a Mouse to School by Numeroff, Kindergarten, Here I Come by Steinberg and Welcome to Kindergarten by Rockwell.

Ways to Avoid Summer Academic Loss

Sisters reading book in summer park

Many studies site that children have an average of a two month academic loss over the summer months. With a little effort, you save their hard gained knowledge and may even help them make gains! Here are some ideas to support them while still having fun:

  • Practice school skills in real life – If your second grader was learning to count money, make them the “family cashier” for the summer. Stop using your cards and carry cash, let them count the money to and from at each transaction.
  • Play school – Little ones may willingly take turns being the teacher and the student. When they are the teacher, ask them to explain a math skill they recently learned. When they are the student, ask them to read aloud to the class.
  • Take field trips – My family is lucky to live in the Washington D.C. area. We have the Smithsonian Museums, National Zoo, Virginia battlefields and Baltimore Aquarium all within an hour drive. Within a day trip we can travel to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Island and fantastic museums in Philadelphia. Take advantage of academically related field trips in your community.
  • Take nature walks – There is so much to be learned in the world around us. Summer is the perfect time to get them out in nature. A great book about this is Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Louv.
  • Make writing fun – When you travel, encourage them to write post cards and keep a daily vacation journal. Provide other writing activities like invisible books, spirograph, stencils, mazes and Mad Libs.
  • Challenge math in everyday ways – Talk about the math involved when you pump gas. For older children, teach them to calculate miles per gallon since the last fill up.  If you eat out, teach them to calculate the tip. Take them bowling and teach them to keep score.
  • Read aloud everyday – Reading aloud to children everyday is sited by the Department of Education as the single most important activity to build successful readers. Aim for 20 minutes a day and enjoy when it’s longer. Read aloud to them through high school if they’ll listen.
  • If they are reading aloud – Encourage children to practice their own read aloud skills. This can be reading to a sibling, to the dog or even a stuffed animal.
  • Encourage quiet reading time everyday – Again, aim for 20 minutes and appreciate when it lasts longer. Make this easy for them, bring books in the car or let them stay up later at night if they are reading.
  • Plan a book club – If they are at all interested, invite a few friends to read the same book with them. Then plan a party to celebrate.
  • Investigate library activities – Public libraries in our area host many fun children’s programs in the summer months. They also have a children’s reading challenge that ends with earning a coupon book for area businesses. Check out your local library!
  • Focus on vocabulary when you travel – There is new vocabulary available everywhere you travel. Discuss all the things you see with your children, provide definitions as you are able. There is beach vocabulary, zoo vocabulary, farm vocabulary, airport vocabulary…
  • Puzzles, board games, cooking and crafts – Play provides learning opportunities such as puzzles for spatial reasoning, board games for social skills and often math skills, cooking and crafts for following directions, tending to details, math and fine motor skills. Spend time this summer playing with your children.
  • Workbooks – My least favorite, but probably most reliable, way to do a little summer review work is workbooks. My children didn’t mind the Summer Bridge Activities workbooks. http://www.summerbridgeactivities.org/

Please share your own ideas below!

Building Academic Motivation

Throughout your child’s education, it is important to build a sense of home-school connection. There is benefit for your child’s academic motivation if they feel you value their school, and that their school welcomes you. There are so many ways you can work to build this bridge.

  • Take an interest in their progress – Ask how school is going, what they do or don’t enjoy about their day and keep up with their grades. This also allows you to intervene early if there is a concern.
  • Check and discuss their homework – Unless their teacher says otherwise, err on the side of checking homework for completeness and effort rather than accuracy. If you do check for accuracy, make a note to let the teacher know where they originally struggled.
  • Expand on school learning – If they are learning about a war, take them to that monument. If they are learning to count money, make them the family banker who pays with cash and counts in both directions for every purchase.
  • Participate at school when and how you can – If you have the time, be a room parent. If not, go on the fieldtrips and send in supplies whenever you can. Be sure to meet the teacher, and at least keep up with the PTA.

Other way to build motivation:

  • Read aloud everyday – Reading skills are essential for success across academic subjects. Building a love of reading and related skills is a strong piece of later academic motivation.
  • Help them to fully investigate their own areas of interest – If your child is interested in the rainforest, take them to the rainforest room at the aquarium and the zoo, watch the rainforest episode of Magic School Bus or join the Rainforest Alliance.
  • Share your own learning – Let them know when you take classes or read books on new topics, let them know you are excited about learning.

To learn more about this and other ways to build motivation and manage homework, join me for my workshop on Managing Homework and Academic Motivation. This is scheduled for September 18th from 7:00-9:00 p.m. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

Tips for Starting Kindergarten

The start of Kindergarten is an exciting time! If your child is starting this fall, there are many things you can be doing to get them ready.

  • Preview the school – Spend some time this summer playing on the school’s playground. Visit their website with your child to view pictures and videos. If there is a preview day or back to school night, attend this as a family.
  • Read books about the start of school – This includes Kindergarten Rocks by Davis, Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Slate and Welcome to Kindergarten by Rockwell.
  • Talk about your own positive early school experiences – Parents stories can go a long way towards providing a sense of comfort and excitement. Keep your stories about school upbeat during this time.
  • Get back to your bedtime routines at least a week before – Being well rested helps to provide a smooth start to the school year as a whole and to each school day. It is good to set a firm bedtime and routine for the evening and the morning. It’s best to start this at least a week prior, so it is expected once the year begins.
  • Provide and start using a calendar with them – The start of the school year is a great time to introduce the calendar and mark days off as you go. If you can, start this in Kindergarten with tracking field trips and other special events, it will be easier to use tracking tests and projects as they get into the later elementary grades.
  • Read aloud with them everyday – Reading aloud as a daily activitiy is one of the best ways to build readers. For Kindergarten, it lays foundation for phonemic awareness and builds listening skills.

Kindergarten Readiness

As a follow-up to my Kindergarten Readiness workshop today, I wanted to post a few notes:

  • Kindergarten teachers are not often as stressed as parents about an individual child’s readiness for Kindergarten. From the teacher’s standpoint, there are two main categories, academic readiness and social readiness. Across studies, social readiness ranks higher on teachers’ scales of importance. Social readiness includes things like being able to listen and follow directions, being able to sit still, being able to participate in a group activity and play skills like sharing and turn taking.
  • It may be important to consider the tendency to wait a year of other families in your school district. With some children starting who turn five the day of requirement, and others who bypass that by more than a year, there is a wide age range for children entering the classroom. This increases what was already a wide range of skills.
  • If you are planning to delay the start of Kindergarten for a specific reason, the next step is to start thinking about the best use of that year. If there is a specific concern, see the right people, get the right homework, read the right books. Make a plan to use the time wisely.

This is a topic that could stand further discussion. Please post your related questions in the comment section below.

Five-Year-Old Concerning Behavior at Home and School

Hi Dr. Rene,

Please help, I have a five-year-old boy whose behavior is pretty bad at school. He is spitting and trying to bite other kids! I dont know why he is doing this because he gets a lot of our attention and loving all the time. He is finding it hard to take instructions and discipline at school. We do find it hard to discipline him at home too. I’m at my wits end, and don’t know what to do to help him with it? Please, can you help? I have tried time outs in the naughty chair and taking toys or his laptop away from him. Nothing seems to be working.

Sincerely,

Agnes

Dear Agnes,

There are two main issues to address here. The first is finding a consistent discipline plan at home. The second is to enlist help to best address the behaviors in the classroom. I am going to point you to good resources for both.

You can learn a positive discipline approach by reading, taking live workshops or online classes. Good books include

  • Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson
  • The Parent’s Handbook: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting by Dinkmeyer and McKay
  • How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish
  • Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Bailey
  • Setting Limits with Your Strong Willed Child: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm and Respectful Boundaries by MacKenzie

Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a parenting workshop on positive discipline. In the DC area there are classes through our Parenting Playgroups office (www.parentingplaygroups.com), the Parenting Encouragement Program (PEP at www.pepparent.org) or SCAN (www.scanva.org).

There are also many online services which offer positive discipline workshops. This includes ours at Ask Dr. Rene (www.askdrrene.com), Positive Parenting (http://soullightcreative.com/positiveparenting/) and Positive Parenting Solutions (http://www.positiveparentingsolutions.com/) among others.

Quite a bit more information is needed to provide a helpful answer about his behavior at school. The first thing I would do is take a parent-teacher conference and ask for as much description of the behaviors as you can and request that the school develops a specific plan to address him. This likely will include an objective observation. I often provide observation services to schools and families in our local area. Request that an objective professional provide classroom observation time and a teacher interview. This could be done by your school’s guidance counselor or school psychologist or a hired, private school psychologist. This person should be able to provide a list of recommendations for what is needed in the classroom. It could be there is a learning concern or social skills difficulties that is impacting classroom behavior. It could be that a fresh pair of eyes can contribute more than the teacher’s current view. Be open to listening to any and all recommendations.

I would be happy to provide more specific answers to the school and home situations if you’d like to send more detailed questions.

Sincerely,

Dr. Rene

Parent Tips from Teachers

This time of year, I provide a lot of teacher trainings at area preschools and grade schools. I have been listening the last two weeks and wanted to share some tips from these teachers for parents as we all start the school year.

  • Know the school’s policies – This means, read the handbook. If you have follow-up questions, please ask. This can often save time and frustration for all. The more everyone knows the plan and is on board the better.
  • Offer to help when you can – If you have some free time, even after school hours, your offer to help is always appreciated and often accepted. There are so many ways teachers can put you to work from cutting art supplies at home, to organizing a craft cabinet, to reading at story time or helping in the lunchroom.
  • Be on time – Teachers often have set activities during the drop-off window. It tends to ease separations if children arrive to the same activity each day. Children who arrive late may also miss valuable information and have a harder time completing morning work.
  • Let teachers know if there are changes at home or other concerns – It can be very helpful for teachers to be aware of changes and stressors like a move, lost job or significant illness in the family. This can help explain changes in behavior or participation. It is also helpful if teachers are made aware of issues such as frequent aggression or learning difficulties.
  • Plan playdates with all the kids in the class at least once (ok, this one is mine) – The idea is to have a bit of time to connect with each classmate at some point during the year.  This can go a long way towards helping your child socially by making everyone a familiar face and someone they can sit with or ask to play.

Exhausted Starting Kindergarten

Dear Dr. Rene,
My daughter started Kindergarten last week, and by Friday she was just exhausted. She is a good sleeper. What can we do?
Sincerely,
MaryAnne
mom of two, ages five and two-and-a-half

Dear MaryAnne,
Kindergarten can be exhausting! For many children, it is their first experience with being away from home regularly for the full day. Think about the effort here – they are meeting and remembering many new friends, getting comfortable with a new teacher, learning to follow rules and directions, being introduced to academics, having to eat on a new schedule, likely getting up earlier than they did in the summer and not really being able to rest when they are tired. My younger daughter Claire was wiped out by the start of Kindergarten. By Thursday every week she was dragging, and by Friday she was weepy at pick-up. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help in the process.

The first is to be sure your child is getting a good night’s sleep. Through the elementary school years the goal is for children to have ten to twelve hours of sleep each night. If you are not there, you might think to move bedtime earlier by 15 minutes each week. Transitioning to this goes best if you move slow and systematically.

You might also lay low on participating in other activities, at least for the first several weeks. After school sports and music lessons are likely too much here. Once you are into the school year, go back and add one activity at a time.

Waiting to join other actitivies helps to ensure your child is getting enough dowtime. Downtime is relaxed time that they are in charge. It is unstructured playtime. It is recommended that children have an hour of downtime a day through ten years old.

If it’s really bad (and ours was), you might try an early pick-up at least on Fridays.
Sincerely,
Dr. Rene
http://www.parentingplaygroups.com/
blog@parentingplaygroups.com

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