first grade and I'm not happy - work with the school or look for a new school?? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 01:47 PM - Thread Starter
 
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My son is in first grade at the public school across the street from our house. It is a "good" (meaning high test scores) public school in Chicago and it is a math and science magnet cluster school. He likes it alot. I have problems with it and I have been seriously looking into other schools and I would love to get some perspective from other MDC mamas.

Here are my issues/ concerns:

1) Class size: There are 34 kids in his class - one teacher, no aide. Several kids do not speak any English and are assisted by other classmates. It appears that a few kids have (mild) learning disabilities and are in the regular classroom without an aide. The school has a good ESL program and resources for LD kids, but those kids are in the regular classroom most of each day. I think that is hard for the teacher, but it seems like she makes it work okay.

2) Discipline: Due to the large class size the teacher is fairly strict in terms of no talking, wiggling, goofing around. That makes sense, since she needs to maintain order. My son is a wiggly talkative kid. He is making progress in terms of regulating his behavior, but he has had a fair number of time-outs and consequences for his disruptive behavior. The teacher told me that my son has have a few tantrums at school. He does have a low frustration threshold, so that makes sense to me. I think the teacher probably handled things okay, but I hate to think that school is making him so frustrated that he has tantrums. He occassionally has tantrums at home.

My son just turned 6 in August, so he is the youngest kid in class. He is very bright, very tall and ready for school in most ways, but he is still emotionally developing social skills. I didn't want to hold him back, since I think he would be bored. And since he is very tall he would probably tower over classmates if we held him back a year. He attended half day kindergarten at the school last year and it would be a waste of time for him to repeat kindergarten.

3) Academics/ Testing: Academically, the school is VERY challenging. He is expected to write in complete sentances; he gets tested in math, spelling and phonics regularly; and he gets at least 1/2 an hour of homework every evening. We actually choose the school because they seemed very strong academically, but now I think it may be too much too soon. He is doing very well, in MY opinion, but he gets actual grades on in-class work that are very low. He doesn't know what it means, but alot of his classwork is coming back with scores of 15-60% correct. He will actually get letter grades when report cards are issued.

His teacher said that she is not concerned. She believes that with practice he will get the phonics, the reading, etc. What irks me is that he is even EXPECTED to be able to do this work so early on. It is the second month of first grade and he an emerging reader. How can they be testing him like this???

I blame the testing on No Child Left Behind. It is insane the expectations the schools have. I totally believe that the teachers are forced to teach for the tests. I think my son has a really good teacher, but she has alot to deal with.

4) Communication: Another complaint that I have is that the school is AWFUL in terms of communicating with parents. I attend school board meetings and PTA meetings and I still don't know what is going on half the time. I like our principal, but I think she is totally overworked. She seemes to be doing a good job of meeting the needs of MOST of the kids, most of the time, but she has to work within a crappy system. I have talked with her on numerous occassions and she is open to new ideas, but implementing better communication does not seem to be her stong point. She is very good at working with the Chicago school board to get the basics that our school needs, but our school is overcrowded and she is doing the best to just keep things working.

5) The school doesn't meet MY NEEDS: I have not totally found a group of like-minded parents that I really click with. I have found a few, but most parents seem to be okay with things that irk me (Disney, weapon play, sugary snacks, alot of homework, testing our kids). I feel like I'm fairly alone in my concerns. Also, the school (this is ALL Chicago public schools) has no formal before or after-school programs, so if I ever want to go back to work I will have to piece-meal childcare. I really worry about that - especially since I an not finding other parents that I would trust to do childcare.

Okay, still reading?? Here is what I LIKE about the school:

1) My son loves it. He is very social and school provides a social outlet for him. He also likes all the special things they do - fire safety month, art projects, field trips, etc. He does not seem bothered by the fact that he is tested all the time. He does not seem anxious about school at all. I have more anxiety about it than he does!

2) The school has alot of resources - a great library, a great computer lab, a full time art teacher, a new gym, a music program, a speech therapist, an OT, a full time nurse, etc.

3) It is across the street from our house, so we can be very involved, very easily. We also have no crazy morning or afternoon commute/ carpool/ etc. I knew this would be handy, but I realize that it is wonderful.

4) I like the diversity of the school - kids of various backgrounds, religions, and languages. Our other option is to send our son to a parochial school and there would be almost no diversity there.

5) I believe in public schools and making public education work for all kids.

6) It's free. We could afford a Catholic school (about $3,000 - $4000 a year for grade school) and we are practicing Catholics, but we have already paid for the public schools with our taxes. Also, I anticipate that we will send our kids to Catholic highschools - so I would kind of like to save money for that (the Catholic highschools in our area run $7,000-10,000 a year right now).

WHAT WOULD YOU DO??? I have a call into a nearby Catholic school, but not our parish school. Our parish school is not very strong academically and they first grade class that is 31 kids, 1 teacher and an aide. Our son attended that school for preschool and I saw some problems at that school.

The school I am looking at is another Catholic school that is about 15 mintues away - the first grade class is two classrooms of 21 kids each. It is the school that my husband attended when he was a kid. It seems like a great school, but I don't know that I want to pull my son out of the school he really likes (across the street from our house) to have him start at a new school.

Okay, what do you think?

Thanks for reading all this!!
Kathleen
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#2 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 02:03 PM
 
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I have many of the same frustrations/fears/concerns with my son in our public school. He is in 2nd grade now. For me, my son is happy. He is learning and he loves going. The day he starts feeling anxious, nervous, hates school is when I will look for a new one.

Kathy-Mom to Blake & Mikaela
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#3 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 02:06 PM
 
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Kathleen,
The first thing that strikes me from what you wrote is that your child is happy. The situation that you describe sounds a lot like my dd's first grade classroom last year in terms of discipline and the nose-to-the-grindstone approach. My dd, too, has an August bd and has always been the youngest in her class, but she, too, is doing very well academically so it would be crazy to hold her back.

However, the difference for my child was that it wasn't just me who was unhappy. My dd was miserable; she came home crying every day and told me that she wished she had never been born. We took her out. She is back this year with a teacher who has a totally different personality and approach with the kids and dd is very, very happy (and doing even better academically than before b/c she isn't stressed).

I admit that, from my end of it, I bear some resentment about how we were treated last year and the 'my way or the highway' approach that the teacher and principal took with us. I don't like the school nor do I feel welcomed there either, but as long as my child is happy, I am going to put my feelings aside.

My gut feeling on your situation is that I would probably try to do the same here. If your son isn't feeling beaten down by the pressure and is happy, I would be inclined to stick it out for the time being. It is also amazing to me how two different teachers in the same school can take the mantra of 'push the kids to do well on tests' and come up with completely different approaches on how to do that. My dd's first grade teacher attempted to up test scores by being a drill sargeant while dd's second grade teacher is warm, personable and stretches the kids gently. You may have a teacher whom you like a lot better next year.

As far as the childcare situation, is it possible to look for a local teen or college student who you could pay to p/u your son at school, walk him home, and bbsit him at home until you got home from work (if/when you go back)?
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#4 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 02:12 PM
 
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Your son likes it there. To me, that would be #1.
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#5 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 02:18 PM
 
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Could you volunteer to assist in your son's class?
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#6 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 02:57 PM
 
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I'm with the PP's who said if the kid is happy, that's what matters. Especially since it sounds like he has a super supportive teacher--when my DD was getting poor grades on tests at the beginning of the year, we went through the same thing. The teacher was awesome, said DD just needed to work on study skills, and then gave us practical tips. As a result, DD doesn't feel "stupid" for getting D's when last year she got A's, and her grades have come up a lot since then.

It sounds like your DS's teacher is the same way--it doesn't matter that he's getting poor grades if he's learning, he's happy, and the teacher is supportive of his learning style. Tests can just be one way of showing what you know and what you need to work on, and it sounds like that's how his teacher is using them--in the positive sense instead of negative!

You can always switch him later if he becomes unhappy, but since he's happy there, you may as well give the place a chance

Mom to Liz (14) and Dillon (3) and Mitchell FINALLY born 7/11/10!
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#7 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 03:04 PM
 
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It's good that your son is happy. Do you think you could give it the rest of the year, and then see if you both still feel the same way?
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#8 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 03:13 PM
 
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I just have a minute, but ask the teacher about the size and special needs,e tc. Most districts make classes wait till mid Octoberish to finalize their #s; ie. it's considered a transitional time. It stinks, but I've had to wait w/a gigantic class until mid Oct and then a new teacher is hired and the 2 giant classes split into 3.

Also, special needs kids may be waiting for IEPs and language testing to be done. A school can be very very anal about legal requirements.

Same for discipline--always stricter during the settle in period.

Can you ask teacher to do email announcements? I used to send home a quick note everyday and had tons of parent emails.

Yes, NCLB has pushed the curriculum down all the way into Kinder in some schools. That's why we won't do our neighborhood school. They don't (can't) respect the kids developmental growth. TG for charter schools.
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#9 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 03:33 PM
 
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Hi,
We have a similar situation although your sons class does seem very large! My daughters first grade class size is 23. I is the same way as far as sit still, dont talk etc. They have to be quiet in the hallway etc. My daughters school they do the spelling tests and math. I think if your son is happy that is saying alot. My daughter hates school...she doesnt handle conformity well and gets easily frustrated with all the work. That does seem like alot of homework but my daughter does very, very little and sometimes I wonder about that. All in all I expect it is a public school thing and all are likely pretty much the same. You are right it is due to the no child left behind which is a joke in reality. I have looked for other schools and for me most of the private church type schools seem just as strict if not more and have just as large of class sizes. I would be careful about that choice if I were you and spend some time in the classrooms, talk with other parents etc before making that switch. Plus like you said it does get expensive and your son seems to be happy already. I wish my daughter was at least happy. I am thinking I will likely change schools in January if possible but I found a lutheran school which has only 7 kids in the first grade class! My other choice would be a waldorf school they seem very interesting to me but also expensive. Anyways, like I said and other posts him being happy is key. He is young especially for a boy as they mature a bit later. He will likely catch up soon enough.
Rebecca
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#10 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 03:44 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Okay, everybody. Your feedback is really helpful! He IS happy at his current school and I think I may be frustrated at ANY school.

I am VERY careful not to discuss my frustrations in front of him at all, and he has no idea that I am researching other schools. I am going to continue to research other options and I think I may still consider a switch in January or next fall if my concerns seem like they are going to continue. We also have a 2 year old and we may have one more child, so I like the idea of public school across the street from our house. On the other hand, if I can't deal with the school and I will be part of that community for the next 12 years (at least!), then I need to do what is right for all of us as a family and make a switch.

Keep your ideas coming. This is very helpful!
Kathleen
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#11 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 03:58 PM
 
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He's barely 6 and he has to write in complete sentences all the time? That would be a deal breaker for me, right there. That's not even a developmentally appropriate goal for most boys this age. If they are this clueless about normal development, it's no wonder the poor kid is having 'tantrums'. I don't even feel i can read the whole post with an open mind knowing this.
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#12 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 04:37 PM
 
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If my child was happy there and seemed to be doing reasonably well, I'd stick it out and see what happens. I agree that your issues with this school are likely to be carried over to the Catholic schools you are considering.

I think you need to look elsewhere to find a group of like-minded friends. I wouldn't look to the school to meet my needs. If I want to surround myself with likeminded people, I find an interest group of same. Part of what I like about ps is diversity, and diversity encompasses a lot of things, including parenting styles. I also doubt in this regard that Catholic school would be any different than the public schools.
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#13 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 04:46 PM - Thread Starter
 
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UUMom - I totally agree with you! It is NOT developmentally appropriate to have a 6 year old boy writing complete sentances. Interestingly, he can do the work. I worry about how little time he has to run around and be a 6 year old boy. But then again, he DOES seem happy...

Kathleen
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#14 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 05:33 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yogamama
Okay, everybody. Your feedback is really helpful! He IS happy at his current school and I think I may be frustrated at ANY school.

Kathleen
:LOL That's me exactly...DH has made fun of me for years because no teacher is ever quite good enough for DD. It's part of why I'm going to try to homeschool next year, but of course the other part is that DD really wants to hs...she's bored. If I could find a more challenging school for her, I'd probably try that out first, but that doesn't exist around here unless you go for non-Catholic private--as in $14,000 a year. We already pay for Catholic school, $14k for elementary is insane!

I think your plan is a good one--give it time and see how it goes. You can always pull him later if it gets difficult for him, and then he'll also know that you will stick up for him if he's unhappy!

Mom to Liz (14) and Dillon (3) and Mitchell FINALLY born 7/11/10!
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#15 of 22 Old 10-19-2005, 05:59 PM
 
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Remember you likely are not going to have to deal with it for 12 years because as you said you may choose to send him to private high school. In my opinion the middle school and high school years are likely to be worth the change from public to private. At my daughters school all of the teachers have web sites and email so you can stay in touch that way. Does your childs school do that..if not maybe you oculd suggest that. I do agreeit is not developmentally appropriate bit keep in mind even so the private schools may expect the same thing. One thing that I have noticed in public school is the influence of other kids that you have no control over. For instance someone calle dmy daughter a b**** one day and last year a boy told her she was sexy. :
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#16 of 22 Old 10-20-2005, 12:39 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I probably will have to deal with this same school for the next 12 years because I also have a 2 year old daughter. So, 8 years for my son and then another 4 for my daughter to finish grade school... Ugh - can I deal with it?

The school does have a web-site, but it is not maintained very well. Teachers do not post weekly updates. I look at it frequently, but I am probably one of the few parents who do - it still have old calendars from last year at this point.

I can't volunteer in his classroom, but I could help in another classroom. But I don't really want to do that right now, since I have a toddler at home. I don't want to find childcare for my daughter so I can go help in another classroom.

I can make suggestions at the school, but I think I need to be willing to roll up my sleeves and make significant contributions and I'm not sure that I am willing to do that. Already I am sitting on my hands when there are vacancies on the PTA or the School Board. I am already overcommitted to things and it is my natural tendancy to take on too much. I want to put my energy into my kids, not into their school. I'm willing to do some stuff, but I would like the basic framework to already be there. I would like to find a school that works for us, not a school where I need to MAKE it work.

Maybe I just need to be pragmatic, or find a happy medium, and accept that he is happy there and I don't need to fix things. But right now I am frustrated when I see all a system that has so many flaws.

I guess I'm just frustrated. I did make an appointment to go tour the other Catholic school. At least they don't have to follow NCLB mandates, the class sizes are reasonably small and the school is big enough to have decent resources. We'll see though. I'm not sure that I am willing to change schools mid-year when my child is happy.

Now I'm off to watch bad tv! The kids are asleep and I'm going to veg.
Kathleen
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#17 of 22 Old 10-20-2005, 02:09 AM
 
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I am planning on a school change too and deciding whether January or next year would be better? I thought if I wait till next year that might be easier as they would have a new teacher anyways.
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#18 of 22 Old 10-26-2005, 02:42 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Okay, I went and toured a nearby Catholic school (not our neighborhood Catholic school, but about 10 or 15 minutes away from home) and it was nice. Not awesome, but very nice. It is the church where my son currently does religious education and it is the school my husband attended for grade school.

I got a tour of the whole facility, observed the first grade classes, talked with the computer teacher, the librarian, etc. It was nice.

I think the 2 distinct advantages over my son's current school are 1) much smaller class size and 2) the school has a before and after-school program for working parents. The disadvantages are 1) distance (driving OUT of the neighborhood to take my son to school) and 2) the possibility of changing schools mid-year.

Next week I am chaperoning a field trip with my son's class to the Museum of Contemporary Art. I think that will give me a better sense of how his teacher deals with her students. She seems like a great teacher, but she has 33 or 34 kids in her first-grade classroom. That just seems HUGE to me. But she seems to be able to manage it all.

The school I looked at today only had 21 kids per class. That seems so much better to me. But worth changing schools? I don't know. I guess I just need to sit with it for awhile and decide what would be right for us as a family.

Sigh.
Kathleen
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#19 of 22 Old 11-15-2005, 04:48 PM
 
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I was a teacher until pregnancy and 34 is definitely huge. If your son is happy I wouldn't suggest making any changes, unless he will feel comfortable socially/emotionally with the change I don't know how a teacher can manage that many children and still allow them to be individuals who feel cared for. One practice that can work well with any large class is splitting the group in half for certain learning activities, or other ways of making smaller groups. Often this takes some class time but can be invaluable in terms of learning and student happiness.

Going on the field trip should help you get a sense of the dynamics of the group as well as how the teacher interacts with the kids.

It is a shame that so much class time is spent on testing rather than learning (and learning does not have to be teacher-directed all the time). I think grading children under age 10 can be stressful and I never had to do it.

For communication, try sending in a small notebook in your son's bookbag. When you have a question, write it in the notebook and have your child hand it to the teacher first thing in the morning. If she can't find time to respond that day, she probably could the next day. Ask her if she would be willing to communicate about your son's experiences this way. I have taught in several schools that use this system, for anything from preschoolers to age 8.

From what you say about the school it seems to be an okay situation. Your son seems happy and school is close to home, which is probably comforting to him as well. Please be very choosy before changing schools. I have seen many children change schools and sometimes they think there is something wrong with them that they can fit in or whatever.

Sorry I'm distracted now by my toddler. Gotta go.

How was the field trip?

Oh, and just to mention,... I am a supporter of public education, but because of my strong opinions about developmental learning, I am planning to homeschool. My daughter is now 21 months.
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#20 of 22 Old 11-15-2005, 05:08 PM
 
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Kathleen: This is exactly the route I took, and we are still plugging away (Del is now in 3rd grade). I chose our neighborhood public school for many of the same reasons you cite...but I really got lucky in terms of class size (only 18 in Del's class, the smallest in the school).
Like your son, she has loved her teachers and the school. The other kids...the other parents...different story. But I have left her there, mainly because she is an intense person who just flowers with the attention of other adults (my original intent was to homeschool, but personalities...)

Hope you learn from the class trip. I did NOT like dd's kindie teacher, but have LOVED the other 3, and interactions like the trip is what helped me learn about them. That makes the difference. She feels at home with them and safe, and it has helped her when the girls were particularly mean.

Just wanted to throw out something someone said at our LLL conference this weekend, I think based on Gordon Neufeld's Hold Onto Your Kids: AP kids sometimes appear younger than other kids in the classroom, because they ARE mamma-focused. I think this is true of dd, and may actually be partly the source of her success with teachers (??) Or maybe it's just that we notice stuff that other parents tune out...
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#21 of 22 Old 11-19-2005, 12:19 PM
 
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You mentioned that you aren't able to volunteer in your ds's class (which to me seems kind of silly, but I've heard of that in other schools), but you should be able to ask to observe the classroom. Try the teacher first, and if s/he is not open to observation, check with the principal. I think if you come across as just wanting to understand more of what your ds does during the day, it shouldn't be a problem. If it is, that's when I would start looking at other options. Schools should be open to parents (within reason). A scheduled observation for an hour or two should not be disruptive to the class or the teacher. I always told parents that they were welcome anytime.

My dd isn't even a year old, and I already am worried about school. Being a teacher, I know how I wanted my classroom to be, and I know what I want for her.

Take care!
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#22 of 22 Old 11-19-2005, 05:02 PM
 
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I was in the first grad class in MI to have to pass the new tests, I had to re-take it and was told I wouldn't graduate if I didn't pass. I graduated with a total cumulative gpa of 3.89. I did end up graduating homeschool due to an illness that prevented me from attending class therefore bypassing the testing aka. Industry standard. Sort of makes me feel like our children are a universal bolt or car part carbon copied off an assembly line.


Quote:
I blame the testing on No Child Left Behind. It is insane the expectations the schools have. I totally believe that the teachers are forced to teach for the tests.
I have many friends who are teachers and they all hate "No child left behind". It creates an unreasonable expectation on slower children, leaves mediocre children in the lurch and bright intelligent students end up bored. Your son sounds like one of those bright intelligent young lads who needs positive reinforcement when doing something right and kind gentle assistance when he has something he doesn't quite understand. The problem? Most city schools can't accomidate that due to large class sizes and a mix of students with many differing backgrounds. I am not sure if private shcools are in your budget, but I know the ones around here have smaller class sizes and more assistance avail for the students should they have a question on the work.
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