Minnesota Revenue offers two valuable tax benefits for parents who purchase school supplies for their K-12 students, the K-12 Education Credit and Subtraction. These benefits can reduce parents’ taxes to increase their refund, but is only available for those who keep their receipts. Purchases for most school supplies, field trips, and musical instruments for school band are eligible.

Most Minnesota parents qualify for the K-12 subtraction, which reduces their taxable income. Parents under certain income limits may also qualify for the K-12 credit, which can refund up to 75% of their costs – even for parents who don’t owe any taxes. Visit the Minnesota Revenue website for details.

  • Let the positive in It was recently brought to my attention that as a person born in the 1980s, now residing in 2020, I’ve been fortunate enough to live in 5 decades, 2 ...
    Posted Jan 13, 2020, 10:33 AM by Brenda Williams
  • Tips if Your Child’s Report Card Has You Feeling Frustrated as a Parent The first semester of the 2019-20 school year will be wrapping up on January 17th. With only a couple weeks after our return from Winter Break, Pequot Lakes students ...
    Posted Jan 3, 2020, 9:24 AM by Brenda Williams
  • Why We Play This past fall, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) in conjunction with the Minnesota Interscholastic Activities Administrators Association (MNIAAA) and the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association (MSHSCA) released ...
    Posted Dec 18, 2019, 7:30 AM by Brenda Williams
  • Supports for Our Patriots At a recent quarterly meeting of our local church leaders and school district leaders, I took some time to explain to the newer folks in the room about the people ...
    Posted Dec 4, 2019, 9:42 AM by Brenda Williams
  • Tell Them; They Will Listen The Veterans Day program at Pequot Lakes High School was a success by all accounts. Adults and students alike enjoyed the message from Dr. Uppgaard and the stories of five ...
    Posted Nov 21, 2019, 10:11 AM by Brenda Williams
Showing posts 1 - 5 of 110. View more »

Let the positive in

posted Jan 13, 2020, 10:33 AM by Brenda Williams

It was recently brought to my attention that as a person born in the 1980s, now residing in 2020, I’ve been fortunate enough to live in 5 decades, 2 centuries and 2 millenniums. When you sit back and think about it, it sure makes you feel like you’ve been around a while. It actually caused some time of reflection. What was I hoping for in life? What did I think I would have accomplished by now?

As we’ve turned the page on a new year, many people make resolutions and use the time to reflect on where they are and where they want to be. There is no doubt reflection is important to all of us. Who we are has been shaped by the things we’ve done, the people we’ve met and the experiences we’ve had. I challenge you to find ways to improve your experiences or that of others in this new year. I’m sure every time you turn on the news, there is plenty of negative to absorb. It can be politics, an accident, some crime, etc. It is easy to dwell on the negative, but I challenge you in this new year to focus on the positive. Don’t foster that negative and don’t dwell on it, but rather find positive in your day to day. I’ve been fortunate to have great family, great jobs and many great experiences with many, many people. I don’t spend enough time remembering that. It is easy to get caught up in a bad day at work or a bit of bad news.

One way to let the positive in is to find some local entertainment to enjoy. It would be a way to appreciate the talents that surround you in our community. The Greater Lakes Area Performing Arts season is a great way to experience a show with local talent. You could also find an offering or class to learn something new. Our community education department offers new opportunities each season for you to learn a new hobby, learn some new history or just experience something new.

I challenge each of you to let the negative things go and focus on all the good in this new year. As John Kabat-Zinn once said, “You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” So as we head full steam into 2020, with a fresh start and a new year, let the negative go, embrace the good things and make it a goal to spread that positivity where you can.

-- Rich Spiczka, Community Education Director

Tips if Your Child’s Report Card Has You Feeling Frustrated as a Parent

posted Jan 3, 2020, 9:24 AM by Brenda Williams

The first semester of the 2019-20 school year will be wrapping up on January 17th. With only a couple weeks after our return from Winter Break, Pequot Lakes students will have a short window of time before teachers will begin wrapping up their gradebooks on the first half of the year. Our teachers have a grading day on January 20th (no classes in session) and in short time, report cards will be going home with students. With that said, a very timely email hit my inbox in late December that I feel compelled to share.

As a principal my email inbox is inundated with blog updates, monthly listservs, and articles about everything from best practice teaching methods to the impact of screen time (and everything in between). I find these short reads to be thought-provoking and highly impactful in my decision making in my role at PLMS, youth coaching and as a Dad. I can credit my wife with the most recent article that had me really reflecting upon how we, as parents/guardians, have incredible influence upon our children. It came in the form of a bi-weekly email from Love and Logic Education.

Love and Logic, a research-based parenting model focused on the whole-child, has been around since the late 1970’s. Their mission is built on a platform dedicated to educate parents/guardians on the science of caring and respectful relationships, with the hopes of developing an authentic and loving connection between parents and their children. Noting that grades can be incredibly stressful for all those involved, when those grade reports come at the end of the month, consider heeding this advice if your child’s report card has less than desirable marks.

A “bad” report card carries a lot more than D’s and F’s, it also carries emotions that leave many adults experiencing frustration, anger, fear, guilt, and even shame. Fortunately, bad grades don’t mean bad parents/guardians, a bad kid, or a bad future for that kid. Instead, they represent an opportunity for us to express our unconditional love and provide wise guidance. When these opportunities arise, consider one of the following tips:

1. Hand It Back- This requires us as adults to express empathy while reminding yourself that your child’s report card is not YOUR report card. Try saying “Oh, I can’t imagine how disappointing this must be for you. I love you.”

2. Listen and remember that just a bit of loving silence is golden.- When we talk too much we end up owning the problem. Instead, empathize, listen, and provide a pat on the back or some form of consolation. Allow your child to think about the situation for a day before revisiting the discussion.

3. Ask, “What do you think you are going to do?” - This question is not just a question, but also a clear statement of your belief in your child’s ability to cope and find solutions. It communicates the message that “Your grades are your grades, I am here to help but I can’t do this for you.”

4. Focus on character over grades.- Remember that though we can’t necessarily make our kids into great students, we can definitely foster a home environment that values the character traits of honesty, love of others, grit, acceptance and delayed gratification. When the adults resist the temptation to allow our own fears and frustrations to take over we can dramatically increase the odds that our child will enjoy life long success.

I found this article, and many of the others produced by the Love and Logic team, to be thought provoking and impactful within our family. As we bring the first half of the school year to a close it is my hope that you find these four tips equally valuable and consider checking out their work for yourself.

Enjoy your Winter Break with your family and we’ll look forward to seeing our students back in 2020!
-- Mike O'Neil, Middle School Principal

Why We Play

posted Dec 18, 2019, 7:30 AM by Brenda Williams

This past fall, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) in conjunction with the Minnesota Interscholastic Activities Administrators Association (MNIAAA) and the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association (MSHSCA) released a series of videos and PowerPoints to help illustrate some of the concepts related to Education Based Activities. I would like to share the five main points of the presentation with you.

1) MSHSL activities:
* are education based
* are an extension of the classroom
* emphasize growth an improvement
* reward effort and not just winning
* allow participants to fail (growing opportunity)
* focus on the process, then the outcome.
* focus on the student first, the athlete second

2) Goals vs. Purpose
* Our goal is to win, but that is not our purpose.
* Our purpose of our activities program is…
* Teaching and Learning
* Human Growth and Development
* Connecting Students to Caring Adults

3) Future Athletic Participation after High School
* Less than 1% will play professionally
* Less than 3% will play beyond high school at any level
* For 97% of our athletes, participation will end when they leave high school.

4) Value of Education-Based Athletics. Multiple studies show that students who participate in Athletic and Activity programs will;
* Do better in the classroom
* Be less likely to use drugs or suffer health issues
* Have better attendance and have a higher graduation rate
* Have higher SAT and ACT scores
* Have greater post-secondary opportunities
* Be healthier overall

5) How do we define success?
* Did you do your best?
* Did you help others be successful?
* What did you learn?
* Did you have fun? Did you help make it fun?
* Did you improve? How will you get better tomorrow?
* Did you conduct yourself well?
* Were you a great teammate?
* How did you handle the outcome? How did you handle winning or losing?

If you are interested in watching the video, you can find it on the school website on the left side of the activities page, MSHSL Parent Video.

See you at the games!
-- Marc Helmrichs, Activities Director

Supports for Our Patriots

posted Dec 4, 2019, 9:42 AM by Brenda Williams

At a recent quarterly meeting of our local church leaders and school district leaders, I took some time to explain to the newer folks in the room about the people and systems we have in place to support our students with social, emotional, mental health, family and relationship challenges. One of the church representatives jumped in to share about how she had encouraged a parent this fall to contact the school regarding her child’s struggles with anxiety and mental health. She was sharing this to celebrate the good work of our student support team and how the child is now doing much better due to the caring folks that have wrapped around him. As she challenged everyone to encourage parents to reach out to the schools to make sure we’re working as a student-parent-school-faith community team, another person in the room asked if we could share about our support teams in the Echo Journal to reach a broader audience. What a good idea!

While schools have long had guidance counselors, the number of counselors and the scope of their work has evolved from 20 - 30 years ago. Counselors serve as the backbone of our student support teams helping to coordinate each student’s learning plan. The position has evolved over time - largely due to less counselors per student across the state than in years past - to focus more purposefully on post high school plans, helping students navigate their academic journey, and working with parents, career advisors, and post-high school institutions to help students achieve their dreams after they leave us. They are often the first to be called when students are struggling, and in Pequot Lakes Schools, they often tap another member of the team for help, depending on the issues.

Schools in Crow Wing County are blessed to have the support of Family Services Collaborative Workers, and we also have a School Social Worker at Eagle View Elementary. Collaborative workers and our social worker work closely with students and families to address social skills, emotional struggles, dealing with conflict, food scarcity, truancy, hygiene, chemical abuse, less severe mental health issues, and navigating tragedies. They are often the connector for students and families to other services provided by non-profits, Crow Wing County, the faith community, or to other social service programs.

Pequot Lakes Schools also collaborates with Northern Pines Mental Health Center and hosts a team right in our schools to provide students with onsite access to mental health therapy and licensed counseling. These highly qualified professionals work with groups of students, provide individual therapy as needed, consult with staff, provide training, and serve as an immediate response team when mental health evaluations are necessary. Most of their services are funded through third-party billing, demonstrating how intertwined education services can be with health care services to ensure students are successful.

Finally, on the front lines everyday are our outstanding teachers and staff led by our school principals. They work as teams to ensure each student has a positive relationship with some adults and to connect students to the folks previously mentioned as needed. This work is done purposefully and systematically, demonstrating great care for the students we serve.

Patriot students and families are fortunate to be supported by effective and caring student support teams that function as a purposeful system. If you know of a student that is struggling, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the appropriate school office to make sure we can connect them to the support needed. Every student matters to us, and it takes all of us to ensure our students reach their dreams!! Go Patriots!

-- Chris Lindholm, Superintendent of Schools

Tell Them; They Will Listen

posted Nov 21, 2019, 10:11 AM by Brenda Williams

The Veterans Day program at Pequot Lakes High School was a success by all accounts. Adults and students alike enjoyed the message from Dr. Uppgaard and the stories of five other servicemen. More than the usual amount of people commented on the program and the need for more of “that stuff” to be taught in school. The theme continued when I visited the American Legion at the Veterans Lunch. A veteran who had recently passed was shown in a movie telling his story and declaring that “kids these days don’t learn about this stuff; they don’t even know what happened.” Again and again all day I heard this same theme; this is important, kids need to know it, we need to teach more of this in schools.

As a former history teacher, I am very fond of Veterans Day and its special meaning to me and my family. I could tell tales from my grandfather who served in World War II and, while modest about his service and reluctant to tell ALL the details, would regale us grandkids with his stories of driving a jeep on the front lines in France. Again and again we would ask him to tell his stories and then tell some more.

As I reflected on the day, the concern of an older generation on the seeming lack of interest by youth in the events of history contrasted by the comments from parents who said their children found this year’s program to be especially good, I was struck by the notion that the key to it all … was the story.

Our veterans experienced the making of history first hand. They lost brothers on the battlefield in the defense of our nation's freedoms. It means everything to them and they want the youth today to understand that history. They can taste it, shed a tear when they think of it, and lie awake at night with the weight of survivors guilt when they think of those that never came home.

We may never understand history like those who lived it. My own children who were born after September 11th will never know the fear that gripped a nation as we waited for more planes to hit that day. But, they will know it better and understand its significance in a greater way if I tell them of my experience that day. What I felt and how I cried for those trapped above those burning floors, the significance of a baseball game at Yankee’s Stadium just a few days later, or what a different experience flying would become in the years that followed that fateful day.

The theme of this year’s Veterans Day was “Service is Personal.” We tried to develop the idea that being a soldier has a very real and personal side as well. The same is said for the learning of history. Tell a child a story and watch them become enchanted in the details, asking questions, thirsting for more. The story of a veteran is personal and it captures the interest of the listener to know more and to understand deeper. Having never served in the military, I can never know what it was like to have faced the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge; however, I can know it more than a chapter in a book when I listen to a veteran tell of their experience as they froze in their foxholes as the Germans showered them with shotshells all night.

Kids these days are no different than kids of any other time, they are self-absorbed and unaware of the course of history that flows around them. We can help them know more deeply the significance of the history of our great nation by telling them. Go ahead, tell them, they really are listening.

-- Aaron Nelson, High School Principal

Why Must I Take a Fruit or Vegetable?

posted Nov 21, 2019, 10:10 AM by Brenda Williams

Why must I take a fruit or vegetable? I cannot count the number of times I am asked this question every day. Thus, I am revisiting an article I wrote about three years ago to help me answer this question.

It is truly a good question. If a child does not want it, why should they take it? We at the Pequot Lakes School District, and most every school district in the country, must make sure that every student has either a fruit or a vegetable on his/her tray before they leave the lunch line.

Why you ask? Back in the mid-1970’s, Congressman Bill Goodling and other leaders believed students were throwing away far too much food, so they devised the “Offer Versus Serve” based menu plan option. This option was designed to decrease waste and give students greater flexibility in choosing the foods they will eat. Before this was passed, every student in the lunch line was served all foods that were offered for the meal.

All school food programs participating in the National School Lunch Program must serve five meal components at every lunch. They are meat/meat alternative, grains, fruits, vegetables and milk. For the “Offer Versus Serve” plan, the student has a choice. They must choose three full servings from the options offered. The only requirement beyond that is that one serving on his/her tray MUST be a fruit or a vegetable. They are welcome to take everything offered, but must take at least three.

For breakfast, the rule stays the same. We typically do not serve vegetables for breakfast, but we always serve fruit of some sort and 100% fruit juice.

This is where the question comes in: “Why must I take a fruit or vegetable?” The answer is this: For every meal we serve in the district, the district gets funding from the state and federal government. In order for us to receive this funding, they insist the student has a ‘full meal’ which, in their opinion, includes either a fruit or a vegetable. The simple answer to the question of why must I take a fruit or vegetable is this: So we continue to receive our funding. If a representative from the Minnesota Department of Education were to be here visiting and sees a student leave the lunch line without these requirements being met, we could lose funding for not only just that student, but for every student that ate that day.

In both schools we have what we call the “Sharing bucket.” This is a widely used tool, accepted by both the Minnesota Department of Education and the Department of Health to help reduce waste and give those students still hungry an option to grab something free of charge. Outside of the serving lines at both schools is a bucket where students can place unwanted items. These items may include, as long as they are individually wrapped, a piece of fresh fruit (untouched with peel still intact), juice cup, cheese stick, or an unopened carton of milk. Other students may help themselves to any items in this bucket, free of charge, whether they purchased a lunch or not. Hopefully the students who did not want that piece of fruit will place it in the sharing bucket, so another student can grab it for free.

A reminder to parents: You can sign up for free and reduced meals anytime throughout the school year. Applications are on the school website and in each school office. Call Patty with any questions at 218-568-9363.

-- Patty Buell, Food Service Director

Breaking Down the High Reliability Schools Framework: Level One--Safe, Supportive and Collaborative Culture

posted Nov 21, 2019, 10:07 AM by Brenda Williams   [ updated Nov 21, 2019, 10:08 AM ]

Pequot Lakes School District is committed to the leadership practices found in the High Reliability Schools Framework, which was developed by Dr. Robert Marzano, and has been adopted by schools across the country. The High Reliability Schools Framework is based on 40 years of educational research into effective school practices combined with research surrounding highly reliable organizations. Simply stated, High Reliability Schools are schools that are continually in pursuit of excellence.

The High Reliability School Framework is broken down into five levels, which are organized in a hierarchy. From the bottom up, these levels include: Safe, Supportive and Collaborative Culture; Effective Teaching in Every Classroom; A Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum; Standards-Referenced Reporting and Competency Based Education. The bottom three levels are interdependent and are foundational for all schools.

This article is the first in a three-part series focusing on levels 1-3 of the High Reliability Schools Framework.

Level 1 of the framework addresses the need for schools to create a safe, supportive and collaborative culture. This is the foundation of the framework, and the remaining levels cannot exist without this level firmly in place. To be certified in Level 1 of the framework, schools must demonstrate the conditions associated with success at this level. These conditions are called Leading Indicators, and there are 8 Leading Indicators for Level 1. Schools must also provide evidence that these Leading Indicators are, in fact, in place. This evidence is called Lagging Indicators.

What does Level 1 look like? The easiest way to explain it is by breaking down the words of the level itself.


At Pequot Lakes Schools, we strive to create a safe environment for all students and staff. A safe environment is free from violence, harassment, bullying and substance abuse. It is a place where diversity is recognized and valued. In a safe environment, all ideas are heard. A safe environment has protocols in place to deal with emergency situations. Most importantly, in a safe environment students feel welcome and cared about.


In a supportive school environment, students, staff, parents and the community all have ways to provide input into the optimal functioning of the school. Resources are managed in a way that directly supports teachers and the work they do with students. In a supportive school environment, the success of individuals, as well as the whole school is acknowledged.


One of the critical commitments of Level 1 of the High Reliability Schools Framework is the implementation of the professional learning community (PLC) process. In the PLC process, collaborative teams are formed and time is provided for them to meet regularly to discuss common issues regarding curriculum, assessment and instruction. These conversations are driven by data and centered around the standards students are expected to master. The focus of these meetings is on student learning, not simply the covering of curriculum. In Leaders of Learning (Dufour & Marzano, 2011), the authors state that “No single person has all the knowledge, skills and talent to improve a school or meet all the needs of every child in his or her classroom.” Hence, the importance of collaborative teams.

Combined, these three words, and their corresponding meanings, define Level 1 of the High Reliability Schools Framework. Last spring, Pequot Lakes Middle School achieved certification in Level 1. Eagle View Elementary and Pequot Lakes High School plan to achieve certification this school year.

In January, I will continue this series with an explanation of Level 2: Effective Teaching in Every Classroom.

-- Michele Zeidler, Eagle View Elementary HRS Coach

Not All Heroes Wear Capes

posted Oct 17, 2019, 6:22 AM by Brenda Williams

Who do you think of when you hear the word hero? Maybe you imagine Superman or Wonder Woman. Perhaps you think of someone a little less famous, a teacher or a coach who believed in you when no one else would, or your mom, dad, brother, sister, or spouse who works tirelessly to provide for your family.

Although Superman and Wonder Woman wear capes, not all heroes do. Most of the time, the heroes who mean the most to us aren’t flashy at all. They are selfless, humble, and often overlooked. This is why it is important that we intentionally set aside time to recognize and thank the heroes in our lives; those who have made an impressionable difference in countless ways for the good of others.

Heroes can be found anywhere, but true to their selfless nature, they do not bring attention to themselves. Sometimes, we have to seek out heroes, and we can't simply look for capes. National holiday calendars can be found on the internet with complete lists for each month’s holiday celebration opportunities. With respect to heroes, October 16th is National Boss’s Day as listed on nationaltoday.com. There are times employees do not understand the hard work and dedication that their bosses put in and the challenges they face on a daily basis at all hours of the day. Boss’s Day is a great opportunity to appreciate and be thankful for all the things management does for their employees. Do you have a hero for a boss? Does your boss wear a cape?

Today, take time to thank the boss heroes who have impacted your life journey. A holiday is not required for us to recognize the hidden heroes who are all around us. Remember, they probably won’t be wearing capes.

- Heidi Hagen, Business Manager

Fill Your Years with Life

posted Sep 26, 2019, 3:56 PM by Brenda Williams   [ updated Sep 26, 2019, 3:57 PM ]

One of the unique attributes of working in education is we basically get a new year, twice a year. We get to celebrate New Year’s in January, like everyone else, but we also get the start of a new school year each year. This is always a new and exciting time. We have new kids in new classes, new activity seasons, fresh starts, new beginnings, and lots of excitement. There is almost a buzz in the buildings for a while until routines are settled into and the newness has faded a bit. It is the type of thing we deal with often in Minnesota. We have distinct seasons and each fills us with anticipation of the future. We look forward to what is to come and all the positives ahead.

I’ve seen the quote many times and it goes something like this. “There’s a reason the rearview mirror is so small and the windshield is so big.” The basic idea is to enjoy what’s ahead and stop worrying about what happened. The start of a new school year is like that. All of the students should be getting a new start and staff are reenergized from some time away. We often don’t treat our lives the same way, however. We carry baggage of the past and feel as if we can never set it down. We have things that affect us at work that we drag home and vice versa. As we start a new school year, I challenge you to look ahead with anticipation and embrace what is to come. Find a way to let things go and be excited for what is ahead. We are so very fortunate to live in a place like we have here. We live in a place where people feel safe. We live in a place with quality housing, good schools and great people. We live in a place where many folks will be sure to look out for one another. We live in a place full to the brim of beautiful natural resources, clear waters, green forests and about every natural critter native to Minnesota. As a dad of three children and a family who enjoys the outdoors, I’m not sure there are a lot of places that would offer more. It sure seems like a great place to be excited about looking ahead.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

I challenge all of you to leave the baggage behind and keep filling your years with life. As our youth start a new school year and a fresh start, make a point to do the same. There will be a time someday, a long time from now, where we and others can evaluate our past, but for now, look out the windshield and not in the rearview mirror.

-- Rich Spiczka, Community Education Director

Schools Must Be Safe and Welcoming for All

posted Sep 9, 2019, 11:10 AM by Brenda Williams

As the new school year kicks off, the staff at Pequot Lakes Schools are working hard to establish routines and expectations, outline the year ahead, and create a safe and welcoming environment for all students - especially for the nearly 160 students who are new to the district! We know that a safe, collaborative, and welcoming environment is the essential foundation for students to learn. We also know that maintaining such an environment is more challenging than ever before with a smartphone in nearly every student’s pocket and media that teaches students negative behaviors. We adults must continually reflect on what our students are learning from TV, videos, music, and by what they see on social media.

Our Patriot staff have numerous efforts in place to establish and maintain a safe and welcoming environment. Our principals and teachers work to proactively teach positive behaviors and protocols through our school-based Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) programs and through the use of ENVOY classroom management strategies. Our WEB and LINK programs involve student leaders to welcome students who are new to the school and to welcome 5th and 9th graders as they make the transition to the next building. All three schools participate in the Courage, Respect, and Wisdom retreats each year facilitated by Youth Frontiers and follow up with reflective discussions. Our staff visibly speaks out against bullying wearing orange anti-bullying shirts each week and talking with students directly about why that message is so important to them. Our teachers intentionally try to identify students in the fall that may not have a positive and meaningful relationship with an adult in the building and then make plans to make those connections. In addition, our school leadership teams survey students and staff to monitor how safe and welcoming each school is perceived to be.

Over the past couple of years, many of our faculty have also been engaged in training and learning work focused on developing our “equity literacy” capacities. The training teaches us and challenges us to notice and address inequities in our schools that occur when some people have privilege and others are marginalized. People are marginalized in our society and in school systems because of income level, race, gender orientation, religion, political persuasion, disabilities, or any other reason power or practices establish privilege over others. Our goal is to learn to better recognize how students and families are marginalized by some of our practices and to address them to ensure that every student feels welcomed and valued in Pequot Lakes Schools.

The Patriot staff is proud of our many ongoing efforts to establish and maintain a safe, collaborative, and welcoming environment for each student. As the 2019-20 school year gets underway we invite all members of the Pequot Lakes Schools community to join this effort by modeling love, care and respect for others - even for those we disagree with on some issues. Every Patriot student is welcome here - let’s work together to make sure they all know it!!

-- Chris Lindholm, Superintendent of Schools

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