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#1 of 20 Old 05-09-2007, 12:11 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I've been looking into Sudbury School and (at the risk of sounding like a crazy person) the more I learned about the place the more it seemed like a serious risk for sexual abuse. Schooling aside, what you're deciding is to let a seven, eight, nine year old child wander around, unsupervised, with no particular place to be and no particular person in charge of them, in a giant house with lots of empty rooms which is *populated* with adults *and* teenaged boys. Does this seem risky to anyone else? Or are there safeguards I'm not aware of?

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#2 of 20 Old 05-09-2007, 01:01 AM
 
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I went to a Sudbury school, so I have blatant bias, but here is my experience:
1. The physical space of the school was not horribly conducive to privacy. There was no way to keep people out of any room but the bathrooms. Two bathrooms for twenty people make it hard to occupy the bathrooms and furthermore, the bathrooms were both near very public spaces.
2. The school had an obsession with records. People marked when they went on campus, went off campus, when they were on the computer, signed in eating utensils, books, signed in and out of the art room, etc... If you wanted to roughly track anyone's movements in the school, you would be able to, making it another way in which it would be hard to keep sexual abuse private.
3. The young kids ran in backs. It would be rare for any kid to be isolated.
4. Small school. Small enough that it would be noticed if someone was gone for a long period of time.
5. It's harder for an adult to take advantage of a child who sees adults more like their equals. A child raised in this model knows that an adult can't just tell them what to do and the kid will do it. That makes it harder to isolate a child than say at a private school.
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#3 of 20 Old 05-10-2007, 07:33 AM
 
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Good points, boigrrrlwonder.

mamomma, as the parent of a 10 year old girl, this is a topic I worry about. My daughter is going to sleep away camp this year, and I have an underlying concern about her safety there that I am mostly trying to get over.

I don't worry about her much at her Sudbury school, however. I have gotten to know the staff there, and they are great. The kids are independent, stand up for themselves, and stand up for each other more so than in any other school environment I've seen. It is a school where you are basically responsible for the safety of others, and you get in big trouble with the judicial committee if you could have stopped someone from doing something dangerous and you didn't. My daughter is cautious, and she has a cell phone on her person at all times. She is also almost always with friends.

So, I'm not particularly worried about school - now I just need to get over worrying about other places.
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#4 of 20 Old 07-05-2007, 05:35 PM
 
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My brother goes to the Sudbury Valley School and even though it is an open democratic sytem the kids are not just wandering around aimlessly, especially the younger kids. Have you visited a Sudbury school? I think you should go in and take a tour and meet the people. The Sudbury Valley School has been amazing for my brother, it is truly an remarkable place.

Good luck.
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#5 of 20 Old 07-24-2007, 02:55 PM
 
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I've heard this concern from several families. We currently unschool but have considered Sudbury.

I think it is a realistic concern. It definitely crossed my mind as well.
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#6 of 20 Old 08-03-2007, 08:39 PM
 
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I am an alum of a sudbury school, haved a masters degree in alternative education and was a staff person for several years. My dd will be starting this fall.
In my oppinion self-directed schools which would include most sudbury schools are the safest for children. This is because your child is empowered through a sense of self and has equal voice to all, including staff. young kids have just as much say over their lives at school as older kids. The program at large is one where everyone is part of the large community where they look out for eachother. I think this is very hard for people to grasp who have grown up in traditional schools where a child is taught right away that they have no say and that the adults have authority and they must do as they say. Also in traditional schooling thier isn't a structure for kids to bring about complaints where they will be respected and protected and taken seriously. Many sudbury schools have an exceptional judical system.

Another very important point is that with healthy age mixing my daughter can make friends with males and females of every age. She will have caring relationships with older boys and girls who will help look after her. She will know when a converation or a situation feels normal and comfortable and if it doesn't. If you always fear for your child's safety and thus shelter them through childhood how will they ever learn and get pratice making meaningful relationships that are healthy and safe?
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#7 of 20 Old 08-03-2007, 11:28 PM
 
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Another very important point is that with healthy age mixing my daughter can make friends with males and females of every age. She will have caring relationships with older boys and girls who will help look after her. She will know when a converation or a situation feels normal and comfortable and if it doesn't. If you always fear for your child's safety and thus shelter them through childhood how will they ever learn and get pratice making meaningful relationships that are healthy and safe?
In an ideal world, sure.

I sent my ds to a Sudbury school when he was 6. Some of the older kids liked him and were kind. Those kids sure didn't step in, though, when a different bunch of older kids decided to repeatedly tease ds. They would tease him until he "lost it," and then write him up for whatever he did. :

The staff talked to the older kids, but said that they wouldn't receive any consequences unless ds remembered to write THEM up before HE got in trouble. : Where are the "meaningful relationships" there?

Lest you think I'm just a bitter parent, or that my ds has something "wrong" with him that made him "unsuccessful" at a Sudbury school--

The year after ds left the school, a couple of 17 year old students locked an 8 year old in the computer room with them and physically forced the younger child to watch [on the Internet] Nicholas Berg being decapitated.

The school expelled the two teens. The 8 year old was diagnosed with PTSD. His parents wanted the school community to discuss what had happened, and what could be done to prevent future incidents. The school disagreed, considering the issue "closed," since it was an "isolated event."

Sides were chosen, and half the families withdrew their kids at the end of the year.

There are many fabulous things about the Sudbury philosophy, yes. But, an ideology is only as ideal as the people practicing it. It's certainly valid to worry about sexual (or other) kinds of abuses going on.
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#8 of 20 Old 08-04-2007, 10:09 AM
 
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darien your wrote .."an ideology is only as ideal as the people practicing it." I completely agree, your message is a good example of that.

It reminds me of my visits to montessori and waldorf schools and many sudbury schools. While they each had similar philosophies (comparing two of the same kind they often varied greatly in the staff and parents understanding of the philosophy and therefore in the quality of the program) they were not the same. I could look at two sudbury schools and they were pretty different. Thats why I started looking at schools when my daughter was 6 months old and didn't settle on one until just a few months ago (she will be 5 in the fall).

For us it was critical for the philosphy and the program to be very strong. I visited montessori schools where I felt like the staff didn't communicate with respect with the kids. I visited a sudbury school where I felt like a staff person didn't represent the philosphy (maybe they just didn't understand it yet).

I love the idea of self directed learning. Life learning-praticing life, yet with responsibility. Like Sudbury schools where students run the school and vote on motions and pass laws that they must then follow. Having said that I didn't just decide to send my daughter to a school with those philosophies. I looked for one that represented them and then I met the staff, some parents and looked at how long it has been around and how well the school is doing. There are many great schools out there. Some embody these ideals without being labled Sudbury etc. And like you said I too think it really comes down to the people practicing them which makes it so great.
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#9 of 20 Old 08-04-2007, 10:28 AM
 
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darian I didn't respond about your son in the last post. I don't want you to think I that I thought your concerns weren't important. Did he ever end up writing the kids up before he lost his temper again? I hope so. It sounds like his buttons were being pushed (which really bugs me and you of course). Were you able to help him recognize the teasing and help him feel himself starting to feel himself get angry? It sounds like it was a great oppurtunity for him to learn about his feelings and for the others to learn the consequences of thier actions (if they were ever written up-of course)

I don't know about the meaningful relationships like you asked. I wasn't there. I just know from my own experience that I felt like I was in a loving caring community while at a school with the self-directed sudbury philosophies. The kids as well as myself LOVED the school and were vigilant in making sure that they carefully protected the school so that it would always be there for them. The students took the laws of the school very seriously and gave well thought out consequences for anyone that broke them even if it was an infraction as small as forgeting to put your lunch trash away. That is one of the things that I find so incredible about the program. Its a sense of ownership and responsibility. If students didn't care for the school and look out for eachother then it may not be there for them and others.

I'm sorry your son had a bad experience. I'm sure I will have some challenging situations ahead of me. Instances when my child chooses to handle things at school her way and not the way I think she should. I'll just keep telling myself that it is her life and take it one day at a time.
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#10 of 20 Old 08-05-2007, 02:45 PM
 
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We were very seriously looking at Sudbury Valley for our son last year. He was absolutely sure he wanted to go there. Unfortunately, it's an hour and a half drive each way. Hard to imagine doing that, but we would have if we'd decided it was worth it.

We had a rather strange encounter with one of the staff. It was summer, the kids were gone, the gates were open, and we happened to be passing by so we took a little stroll on the grounds, thinking we might pop in and talk to the administration.

A staff member approached us and confronted us as if we were criminals. No smile, no greeting. Nothing but a not-so-courteous escort back to the gates. Wouldn't answer questions, wouldn't shake hands.

That one small encounter left us with such a bad taste we dropped the school as an option right then and there. Silly, perhaps, but first impressions can make a huge difference!
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#11 of 20 Old 08-05-2007, 03:02 PM
 
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My brother went to a Sudbury school for a year, after a really really bad experience at a public school (teacher left him in the detention room for almost 5 hours, not releasing him for lunch, and then lied to my mother about it). My mother pulled him out after an older child (I think he was 13 or 14, my brother was 9) smashed a caterpillar on my brother's face, near his eye. Those fuzzy things on a caterpillar are barbed, like bee stingers, and it took my mother HOURS to get them all out of his face. The dr. told her we're lucky none of them got in his eyeball. What did the school do about the kid? Nothing. Because my brother didn't file the complaint himself. I don't know if that's part of the Sudbury model, but it's how they ran things at this particular school, that the aggrieved had to file the complaint or nothing was done. My mom pulled him out & our grandmother unschooled him for the rest of the year, just as she did when my mom pulled him out of the public school. I think that giving kids autonomy is good, but there has to be limits and guidance. six year olds don't know the way the world works, and if they're learning how the world works from teenagers, things might not go so well.
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#12 of 20 Old 08-05-2007, 11:28 PM
 
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adamanderin That is very odd, I agree. I remember visiting one Sudbury school where the staff had a manner that seemed grumpy to me. I wonder if it was the same one? And yet at other schools the staff were so nice and kind that I didn't want to leave.
I do know that they have rules about visitors because of protecting the kids but you said it was summer-right? The school that came acrose grumpy has worked very hard over the years explaining its philosphy and I think that can take a toll after awhile. Its kind of like me and how I am still nursing my very large 9 month old. People keep asking me "don't you think you should stop nursing your baby since he is so big now?" After a while I almost just want to be left alone and don't want the confrontation. I try to always smile though and say " no actualy I'm doing whats best for my baby". So maybe they thought you were there poking around looking for something to dig up about the school or something. Although from how you described it, it sounded like you would appear friendly anyway.

I toured others and had a totally different experience. I just want to point out that many of the schools that I have visited and toured have been wonderful and this thread seems to only be about negative things. Thats ok-of course but it may be a little missleading to people who are not sure what the schools are about.

Jennk that is a scary story about the catepillar. Why do you think your brother didn't want to write them up? I don't understand why nobody else wrote them up anyway. All the Democratic schools I visited had strict rules about hostle physical aggresion. Even a staff person could have written them up. There are also rules about conduct that can hurt the image of the school and conduct that is meant to intimidate and manipulate someone who is younger or maybe more immature than the the manipulator.

Its frustrating hearing these things. again I think it goes back to what darian wrote that "an ideology is only as ideal as the people practicing it."
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#13 of 20 Old 08-05-2007, 11:40 PM
 
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Jennk that is a scary story about the catepillar. Why do you think your brother didn't want to write them up? I don't understand why nobody else wrote them up anyway. All the Democratic schools I visited had strict rules about hostle physical aggresion. Even a staff person could have written them up. There are also rules about conduct that can hurt the image of the school and conduct that is meant to intimidate and manipulate someone who is younger or maybe more immature than the the manipulator.
It's not that he didn't want to, it's that he was more concerned with calling my mom & getting to the hospital to get this thing off his face than filling out paperwork. He asked his friend to do it for him (there were no staff members around), but the staff told his friend that because Jason was the injured party, he'd have to do it or nothing could be done. My mom was friends with some of the staff there, before my brother started going, and when they told her their hands were tied because they didn't witness anything, that's when she pulled him out. It happened on a Friday, and he just didn't go back, after she talked to her friends over the weekend & was told they couldn't do anything about it.

That school's in a hot mess right now WRT testing, anyway. Apparently, the district, because they're a charter school, is telling them they have to give the kids standardized tests in order to keep funding. The school is saying no, parents have been filling out opt-out forms, but the thing is, not every parent has done that, so they have to give the tests to the other kids, and they haven't been. They're in danger of closing because of this. That and the administration is a bunch of flakes really. Some of the staff are really nice & genuinely care about kids and letting kids learn how they learn best, but it's like that movie The Island, utopia can only last for so long.
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#14 of 20 Old 08-10-2007, 10:32 PM
 
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darian I'm sorry your son had a bad experience. I'm sure I will have some challenging situations ahead of me. Instances when my child chooses to handle things at school her way and not the way I think she should. I'll just keep telling myself that it is her life and take it one day at a time.
Thanks for the sympathy, Brooktosea. My ds made a bit of progress that year dealing with the teasing, but not enough. He was asked to not come back until he was older.

I have to say that a sizeable bit of the trouble was his "fault"-- but he was SIX, and they treated him like he was a criminal. :

We started unschooling after that, and it's been great.

I'm glad you found a good school for your daughter, and I hope she has a fantastic experience.
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#15 of 20 Old 09-06-2007, 01:26 AM
 
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This thread touches on something I have seen at a new school in Houston. It's not a Sudbury school but they do call themselves a Free school and are centered on self-directed learning.

I love the philosophy and I could imagine how it could be implemented successfully. I also see why so many of these schools fail in the first few years. In the months I was involved, there were maybe 10 students from age 4-14 although not all came every day. Having so few students made it hard to get a good community feel that is part of the experience. Worse, it meant one bad apple had a big impact on the overall feel. As it was, there was a 9 year old girl who definitely made things negative. Basically, she is an unhappy person. I don't know the details of her life or why she is the way she is. But I watched her as she played kids off of each other. She'd include some, exclude others. And it would not always be the same kids. She largely played the younger ones this way and the older ones stayed away from her as much as they could. And the older one openly told me of how they felt about her so it was not just me seeing this.

So what's my point? I wonder if the philosophy is strong enough to overcome the human problem that can come from students or staff members. Maybe what it takes is a benevolent dictator type running the school who is quick to kick out bad apples so that those that are left do live up to the best in the school's philosophy. I don't know. Just a bit disillusioned after reading about the wonders of Sudbury. I will say in the interest of full disclosure, I have never visited a Sudbury school. And I know the ones that started the Free school here had split from a group that had started a Sudbury school in part because they hated the rules, procedures, and writing up that is part of the government of Sudbury. Maybe when you take that out, you are left with something to fragile.
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#16 of 20 Old 09-09-2007, 09:17 AM
 
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For whatever it is worth, Free Schools are quite different from Sudbury models in many ways, though they come from similar educational roots. There is no "writing up", or Judiciary Commity (JC as it is called in Sudbury). Free
Schools themselves can vary quite a bit because part of the Free School philosophy is that each school should be suited to the particular group of kids and staff that are in each building as well as be suitable to the area that the school is located. (for example in a country or urban setting) There is a more flowing model.
I have to disagree that it works better if someone is there to kick out the "bad apples." It is about helping the community of children deal with issues as they arise and letting underlying dynamics between children come to the surface so that both children can be healed. It is incredibly important for a child who is picking on others to be stopped. It makes them feel safer in there own body. It is also an important life lesson for the other child to feel that they are capable of stopping the child picking on them. It is amazing to see the confidence grow in children who learn the lesson of stopping someone who is offending /hurting them. (At Free Schools there is support from staff or other children as needed, but not instead off the child involved). Some Free Schools use restoritive justice type meetings or mediation as methods to help children solve problems.

I guess I just wanted to respond also that i think it is sad to see any child referred to as a bad apple. It makes me think of who has failed them in their lives and what others can do to help heal that child. It takes a while, i know, but it also, when done well, instills a true sense of understanding and compassion in all of the children, creating true community.

I just have to disagree that this model of school would work better if these kids were quickly kicked out. I think that a good director/staff will be honest about when and if they can take a kid like this on, and if they do, be keenly aware of their whereabouts and relationships to the other kids. trust is not handed out, but should be earned, slowly, as a child learns the Free School environment and the school community gets to know the kid.

no judgments to you, EllenC, but I just had to share my feelings on this.
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#17 of 20 Old 09-22-2007, 11:19 PM
 
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I just have to disagree that this model of school would work better if these kids were quickly kicked out. I think that a good director/staff will be honest about when and if they can take a kid like this on, and if they do, be keenly aware of their whereabouts and relationships to the other kids. trust is not handed out, but should be earned, slowly, as a child learns the Free School environment and the school community gets to know the kid.
That is exactly what was missing. There was no guidance of the child causing the problems or guidance and protection of the ones in her path. The comment was made that the child did not want to be there and there were things happening in her life to make her unhappy but nothing was being done to resolve the problems at least as it manifested at the school. I guess she did achieve her wish of not being there though because I was there last week and she is no longer attending.
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#18 of 20 Old 09-24-2007, 01:54 AM - Thread Starter
 
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It's been slow going, but I truly appreciate the replies (and the way that this thread has broadened into a place for larger critiques / defenses of sudbury schools... maybe that was needed here?) Given the responses people have given (particularly related to the greater confidence / comfort level / lack of subordinate mindset presumed for these children with regard to adults) I guess I wonder whether imbuing a young child with a sense that s/he is a peer to older teens / adults (when, frankly, s/he just isn't, intellectually or developmentally) might present its own set of risks? What do you think?
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#19 of 20 Old 09-28-2007, 08:30 AM
 
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I really think there is some truth to that, and also that at times there is much to be gained by mixing the ages. In the Free School where I work, we split the kids into 2 groups. They still mix most of the time, but it gives us as teachers the extra awareness needed at each age/stage. There are some things offered to particular age groups only, other activities are offered to all.

Although, the fact that adults can offer classes and activities is a pretty big difference between the Sudbury and Free School models as well.

We basically have two areas to our school. One is a huge room where everyone eats together and large meetings are held. It also serves as the pre-school and kindergarten area for kids 3-6 (roughly). When children are the right age/socially ready, they are allowed if they want to go "downstairs." It is somewhat of a right of passage for the young ones. There they are mixed with all the rest of the elementary aged children, although the 7-8 graders also have there own loft apart form the others where they can have space if they need it. Extra attention is needed to care for younger kids. also, there is the reality of safety and keeping the younger kids apart gives us the ability to keep more eyes on them. They spend a lot of organic time mixing with all of the other ages, from the big kids walking through and stopping to read a story, to playing in the backyard for hours with the bigger kids. It is really beautiful to see them all interact so naturally.

i think it is an awful lot of responsibility for a little kid to feel that they a re a peer to an older teen or an adult. I think that that is not the goal. There are clear differences in age and development that happen during childhood. I think it is about mutual respect, a lack of division in life between those stages so that there can be more understanding and relationships all around. I think it is my job to be in community with the children I teach, not to be peers with them. I have my own peers. I think that is true all the way on down. The high schoolers have friendships with the younger kids, but not as peers, really. The little kids LOVE the big kids and the big kids stop to say high and spend time with them, but not in a peer way, in more of a familial way. I think the big difference is that the different stages are visible and that kids can have deep friendships that are with others around there same age (usually within 3-4 years) that couldn't exist in public school. It behooves us all not to be removed from any stage of life. But it doesn't take away anything, it enriches.

i love to watch all the little kids faces as they see the older boys dealing with an interpersonal problem, tears on there faces. They look up to them and see that it is okay to cry, to confront your friends, to say you are sorry. they will never believe me as an adult in they same way when i tell them all that (i am just not that cool).
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#20 of 20 Old 10-04-2007, 08:51 PM
 
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I think one big mistake that a lot of new schools (new as in just opening that year) make is that they sometimes seem in a rush to enroll and make the community flush with kids. I've seen this with a few schools and what happens is that the schools will sometimes end up with a kid who deep down doesn't want to be there, or a kid who just might not get the philosphy yet. Both of these instances can take a huge toll on the rest of the school community. Some schools have become very careful in mentoring and being very accessible to new students who are transitioning in to prevent some of the problems that this thread has been discussing. Several schools have a temporary admissions. If the student is damaging, bullying or just plain causing illful harm to the community then they work to resolve the situation.

I am all for age mixing. I have always hung out with people my age and very often much, much older than myself and also take great joy in mentoring younger kids. I've always been this way even when I was a preteen.
In an age mixing school I haven't seen kids who were expected to act as a peer to an older student all the time. The kids seem to move and flow in there own groups that they find shared interest with. My dd who is 4 goes to one of these schools. She mostly plays with kids within 2 years of her age but I sometimes find her sitting on the couch reading with a teenager. It's really cool. I also know that she feels a sense of empowerment knowing that just because they are older that they aren't more of a person-have more say in this world than her. She gets equal respect despite her age. She has equal vote to a teenager. It makes for a wonderful community.

I'm enjoying this thread and glad to hear that people are curious about all the schooling or unschooling options out there. The more we know the better choices we can make.
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