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.

  • 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
  • Why Must I Take a Fruit or Vegetable? 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 ...
    Posted Nov 21, 2019, 10:10 AM by Brenda Williams
  • Breaking Down the High Reliability Schools Framework: Level One--Safe, Supportive and Collaborative Culture 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 ...
    Posted Nov 21, 2019, 10:08 AM by Brenda Williams
  • Not All Heroes Wear Capes 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 ...
    Posted Oct 17, 2019, 6:22 AM by Brenda Williams
Showing posts 1 - 5 of 107. View more »

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

MSHSL Realignment Process Results in Few Changes for Pequot Lakes Activities

posted May 31, 2019, 8:01 AM by Brenda Williams

In early April, the MSHSL released the classifications for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. This is a time of great anticipation for AD’s and coaches as we finally get the official word if we will move up or down a class and/or switch sections. Given our location in the state, Pequot Lakes (PLHS) is located on the boundaries of traditional sections. We are one of the southwestern most schools in section 7, we are one of the most southeastern schools in section 8 and we are on the northern edge of sections 5 and 6. Simply put, we are one of the schools that is easy to move if the MSHSL needs to balance various sections. Historically, we have seen a lot of change in terms of switching sections.

This year’s new alignment did not result in a lot of changes for PLHS. There were no changes for any of our activities in terms of class. We did not move up or down a class based on enrollment. Starting next fall, out of the 28 MSHSL activities we offer, five of those will compete in a different section. Here are those changes:

*Baseball is moving from 8AA to 7AA.
*Cross Country (boys and girls) are moving from 8A to 7A.
*Golf (boys and girls) are moving from 8AA to 6AA.

Other than the obvious change that we will compete against different teams in the section tournament, there are other differences as well. The dates, sites, and procedures of each section are unique. You may have noticed that some of our activities play their section finals in the same place and usually on the corresponding date each year: football at the Fargodome, basketball at UMD, and track at Fergus Falls. Each section can set the dates, seeding procedures and awards for each of its activities so when we move from one to the other it can create some confusion. Some sections may choose to play on Wednesdays while others may avoid Wednesdays. Some use high seed as home site for one, two or three games; some sections use neutral sites. Sections may choose to play games on consecutive days and others spread the tournament out over a longer period.

So for those of you that follow baseball, cross country, and golf, if you hear someone utter the phrase “last year we did it this way,” they are exactly right. That was last year and in a new section it will be somewhat different.

Speaking of sections, here are the dates of section play for our current spring activities:

SOFTBALL (8AA) May 21 High Seed, 23 at Frazee, 28 and 30 at Park Rapids
BASEBALL (8AA) May 28 High Seed, 30 at Perham, June 4 and 6 at Perham
BOYS and GIRLS GOLF (8AA) Subs May 29 at Headwaters CG, Sections June 3-4 at Bemidji T/C
BOYS and GIRLS TRACK and FIELD (6A) Subs at Pillager May 23, Sections at Fergus Falls May 30

See you at the games!

-- Marc Helmrichs, Activities Director

It Really is a Good Day to be a Patriot

posted May 8, 2019, 6:58 AM by Brenda Williams

Why do so many people say they chose to live in this area because of the great schools? Why was Pequot Lakes High School voted the #1 school in the Brainerd Lakes Area? Why did someone provide an anonymous $100,000 donation to the Patriot Foundation this past fall? Reputations are not earned by nice buildings alone. The positive reputation of Pequot Lakes Schools has been earned through many, many years of dedicated staff working tirelessly to ensure student success. This past week at the district Employee Recognition Celebration we honored some fabulous educators and support staff that have served this community for 20, 25, 30, 35, and even 40 years!! We intentionally invite past retirees of the school district to attend the annual celebration, and a look around the room explains a lot about why Pequot Lakes Schools is the district of choice in central MN.

Pequot Lakes School District has benefited financially from steady enrollment growth for over two decades. Growing districts get to have discussions about adding programs and staff instead of discussions about what to cut or who to layoff. Unlike most districts around us, Pequot Lakes has not had to make major reductions over the past several years due to diligent planning and increased enrollment. The community has supported updates to facilities and the district recently installed a large roof-mounted solar panel array that will produce about 25% of the electricity consumed at the secondary campus thanks to the help of Region Five Development Commission and Rural Renewable Energy Alliance. The positive culture in our schools and the professional and diligent work of our staff has consistently resulted in a 90% - 96% graduation rate and the highest test scores in our region. It is truly a great day to be a Patriot!

And yet the Patriots still want to be better. All three school leadership teams are implementing the High Reliability Schools frameworks, and Pequot Lakes Middle School recently achieved level 1 certification, “Establishing a Safe and Collaborative Culture.” In pursuit of creating a more rigorous, relevant, and personalized learning experience, Pequot Lakes High School has established a successful internship program with nearly a dozen students working in local businesses. The district rolled out a 1:1 Chromebook program this past year and will be launching a new student information system (currently Skyward) and learning management system (currently Moodle) in 2020-21 to augment the personalization of learning.

It is a great day to be a Patriot and you can be part of supporting the excitement! The recently relaunched Patriot Foundation has provided innovation grants this year for five different teachers, and they will be handing out TEN $1000 scholarships to graduates at Senior Awards Night later this month. Donations to the Patriot Foundation is one of the best ways to express pride in our schools, and donations can be made online at www.patriot-foundation.org. Thank you for supporting the Patriots!!

-- Chris Lindholm, Superintendent of Schools

Behind the Scenes

posted Apr 22, 2019, 7:25 AM by Brenda Williams

The roadmap to an operationally sound and responsible district that places transparency as a high priority involves many people behind the scenes. Who are these people? They often eat chaos for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They routinely make the impossible possible. They are the sturdy scaffolding of the organization. They are the ultimate go-to people. They’re … administrative professionals.

At a local district level, several content experts ensure the district performs on all points all of the time. Ongoing due diligence is important throughout the year, not just September through May when school is in session. District operations, similar to other business operations, include departments. Unique to a school district: business services, health services, transportation, buildings & grounds, human resources, food and nutritional services and technology; there’s an all-encompassing administrative support team directing the day-to-day tasks. Answering phone calls, greeting students, staff and visitors offering pleasantries, documenting attendance, budgeting, purchasing supplies, approving and paying bills, circulating information, coordinating meetings, conquering deadlines, perfecting the “dotted i” and “crossing the t” and always focused on exceeding expectations every single day. As simple as it might sound, the work behind the scenes is an integral part of impacting the district to ensure a positive difference in the lives of our students, families, community members and employees.

People fail to recognize all what admins do; so much goes on behind the scenes. The reality is if people don’t realize it’s being done, it’s being done right. An oxymoron, admins support some of the busiest people, remember important details, meetings, tasks, anniversaries, birthdays, heck even sometimes “remember to eat lunch!” But who reminds people about the administrative professionals in the day-to-day interactions … admittedly humble to a fault, surely the admins would not send out an all-staff memo. Take time to recognize the important admins in your life. This is your reminder!

-- Heidi Hagen, Business Manager

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