Two Monday mornings

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The first post in my promised year-in-review series.

I suppose this is true for all jobs, but in teaching I know it to be true: Monday morning can make or break an entire week.  Sometimes you can get a vibe as soon as you get in the car.  On some Monday mornings, I can sail down the road effortlessly and hear “Regulate” by Nate Dogg and Warren G on XM’s ’90s station and just know deep down that the week is off to a good start.  Or I can oversleep, hit a giant traffic jam and hear Nickelback, and know that the week might end up sucking.

Monday morning is usually eventful once I get to school as well.  The kids haven’t seen each other in a couple of days, students and teachers alike are scrambling to get things ready for the week, and it tends to be rather bustling.  Oddly enough, two of my most memorable moments at school this year occurred before first period began on Monday mornings.  One event was probably one of the worst things I’ve personally experienced as a teacher; the other was one of the most rewarding.

The Bad

I’ll start with the worst of times; in addition to my typical desire to get unpleasantness out of the way, it happened first chronologically.  One Monday morning in March, as I was in my classroom arranging stuff for the day’s class, my colleague across the hall came in and said in a rather alarmed tone, “Alex, I think there’s something going on in the boys’ bathroom.  I think you should go check it out.”  Just the way I wanted to start the week.

By the time I got up there, “something” had actually moved out of the restroom and into the school’s common area.  One student was doubled over, clutching his shoulder; another student was bent over taunting him, about what I couldn’t hear.  Other students were milling about with that Oh man oh man oh man there’s about to be a fight! air about them.

I got between the two students at the center of the whole deal and addressed the apparently injured student first. “You okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine, just hurt my shoulder yesterday,” he replied.  I didn’t buy it for a second, but diffusing any potential bad business was my first priority at this point.

“All right,” I told him, “just go get your stuff, 1st period’s about to start.”  I then turned to the other student, whose behavior had been pretty bad for awhile, resulting in several short-term suspensions.  “I don’t know what this was about, but just go to class.”

This student had other ideas.  “Man, fuck that, I ain’t fuckin’ goin’ to class,” he said as he turned to walk away.

Oh hell no.  “WHAT?!” I called after him, my voice probably tinged with an incredulous laugh.

At this point, the situation devolved into the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever been part of as a teacher.  The student turned back around, got directly in my face, and started yelling.  “‘What?’ You gonna say ‘What?’ to me?” he screamed. “I don’t like you.  I will mash you, bro.”

I knew how Nate Dogg and Warren G would deal with this – sixteen in the clip and one in the hole and what-not.  But in spite of wishing very badly that I knew kung fu at that moment, I did my best to remain calm since there were witnesses.  “You don’t have to like me, but you do have to go to class,” I told him with a laugh, trying anything I could to calm him down.  It didn’t work; he just kept getting more and more pissed off and agitated.  About that time, Eric (my boss) came into the gallery and essentially dragged the student away.

That little incident, combined with numerous other transgressions, resulted in that student eventually withdrawing from RTHS.  I informed my colleagues that they were welcome, and that they should consider a donation to the Raptors athletic department in lieu of flowers.

…and the Good…

Students like the aforementioned ne’er-do-well tend to dominate a teacher’s mind when thinking about school, but it’s important to point out that most of RTHS’s student body is outstanding.  For every problem child in our classes, we have probably 10 students who are respectful, funny, smart, and focused, and make teaching so fun and rewarding.

Attrition is part of any high school class from the first day of 9th grade to the end of 12th.  Some students get attritioned (attritted? attrished? REMOVED.) by administraton (see the previous segment of this post), but other students move, or fail a bunch of classes and opt for a fresh start, or simply decide they want a different kind of school.

Over the course of the spring semester we found out about several students who wouldn’t be returning next year.  And while most of these students had no tears shed on their behalf when they walked out the door for the last time, a couple of them were serious bummers because they were such cool people and great students – their families were moving.  But it goes without saying that we as a faculty really wanted to hold on to all of our top talent.

So imagine my horror when another teacher informs me that two of our brightest, sweetest girls – one of whom, a brilliant student named Hope, I taught – were considering attending a new charter school in Raleigh that was going to be more convenient to their homes in Wake County.  That same week, Hope came to me to ask about next year.

“Mr. Drake, what are the chances of me having you as a teacher next year?”

“Are you planning on taking AP Government?” I asked her, knowing the answer full well.  The girl had a 99 average in Honors World Civ.

“Yes, of course.”

“Then the chance of having me is 100 percent.  Don’t leave.”  She looked surprised that I knew her little secret, awkwardly laughed, and walked off.

The faculty engaged in a will-they-or-won’t-they about these two for a couple of weeks.  The teachers gently worked their powers of persuasion over both of them, selling them on our superior academics and opportunities in RTP that we offered.  I didn’t take part in that beyond my one comment to Hope, figuring that they were gonna do what they were gonna do whether I put the screws to them or not.

Then, one Monday morning in April, as I was rushing to the office to make a copy before students got to class, Hope approached me as she was coming in the front door.  “Mr. Drake!” she called out.  “I just wanted to let you know that I’m not changing schools next year.”  This is how to start a week off right!  “That’s great to hear!” I told her.

But she wasn’t done.  “I know that this school can do a lot for me, and knowing that I’ll have you for AP Government was a big plus for coming back.”  I’ve seldom been more flattered in my career as a teacher.  I didn’t really care why Hope was coming back to RTHS as long as she was coming back, but to have played some small part in her decision made me very, very happy.

They say that one of the big pluses of being a teacher is that every day is different.  These two Monday mornings, illustrating two very different sides of the education profession, demonstrated that to me in a strikingly clear way.  There are awful days and great days.  Days that make you wonder what you were thinking getting into this gig, and days when you couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  It keeps you on your toes, and it makes going to work every day quite an exciting proposition.

I just hope that the music I hear on the way to work is good.


One year down

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The Class of ’16

Today, as I sat in a 78,000-square-foot meeting hall at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville reading about Rosa Parks for the seventy billionth time this week, the clock struck noon.  And I took a break from my task of grading AP U.S. History essays, looked up, and grinned.  Four hundred miles away, back home in Durham, the inaugural school year at Research Triangle High School was coming to a quiet close.

Now, contrary to what you may think, I’ve not forgotten about my blog.  But I’ve sure as hell been too busy to touch it lately.  Between working on plans for next year, scheduling our athletic events for the fall, and planning my impending wedding, there’s been virtually no time to write.

But I still have plenty to say, and I hope to share it over the course of the next few weeks – when I’m not putting the finishing touches on my nuptials or lounging on my honeymoon.  In the meantime, you can check out this cool video put together by RTHS lead English teacher and yearbook guru Deb Brown consisting of all the leftover photos that didn’t make our inaugural yearbook.

A respite from the slog

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When I started this blog nearly 11 months ago, I was posting two, sometimes three times a week.

This is my first post in 32 days.

Spring is finally here!

Why the drop-off?  I suppose part of it is the fact that this blog was largely meant to chronicle all the “firsts” of Research Triangle High School, and we’ve gotten most of those out of the way.  It was also a place for me to reflect on the ins and outs of returning to teaching in a new, revolutionary model to which I wasn’t accustomed, and I’ve reflected on that a’plenty.  But I can account for my absence from this space with an excuse that teachers everywhere could probably understand: it was March.

In the fall semester, most months have some long weekends easily built in.  September has Labor Day, October has the end of the first grading period which usually brings a three- or four-day weekend, November has Veterans’ Day AND Thanksgiving, and of course December brings winter break.  The beginning of the spring semester isn’t too bad, either, with Martin Luther King Day in January and Presidents’ Day in February.

But mid-February to spring break in early April?  It’s a freakin’ desert.  For years, I’ve called it “the slog.”  There are no vacations (we did have one teacher workday in March), the year is over halfway done but there’s really no end in sight, and the weather’s getting nicer and no one wants to be stuck in a classroom as a result.  At school, we saw all the symptoms of “the slog” that I saw at Robinson year in and year out: more behavior problems from students, general crankiness all around, and overwhelming fatigue on the part of the faculty.

Spring break has given me a much-needed chance to re-charge my batteries.  I’m having to do some work – I’ll make some flipped videos, and I’ve had to put the finishing touches on paying Uncle Sam’s greedy ass ahead of next week’s tax deadline.  But I also get to kick back a little.  I’ve slept in every day, I’ve had a chance to do some spring cleaning at home – a chore, but a cathartic one nonetheless – and I’m finally reading The Grapes of Wrath after staring at it on my bookshelf for about two years.  I had lunch with a great high school friend this afternoon and heard all about her getting ready for her first child to be born next month.  And last but not least, I get to do some writing here.

Based on previous experiences, the students will return to school next Tuesday a little re-charged too (and probably tanned).  With 35 school days before final exams start, there’s now light at the end of the tunnel, and most of them will want to buckle down and end the year on a good note.  And when Memorial Day rolls around and gives them their first holiday in nearly two months, they’ll have pretty much made it to the end.

Hopefully the faculty makes it with sanity intact, too.

Professionally developed

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Not counting the end-of-year AP U.S. History readings, I’ve been to more off-campus professional development workshops and conferences in the last five weeks than I was able to attend in my last three years at Robinson.

And how many workshops have I attended in the past few weeks?  Two.

Robinson – and Cabarrus County Schools at large, I imagine – was infested by what my friend and former colleague Laura Huffman once called a “culture of no.”  Requests for workshop registration fees, maps and books to supplement instruction, and substitutes that would allow for workshop attendance or collaborative planning were almost always rejected.  And while I was allowed to attend the AP Reading, I would be made to take personal or unpaid leave for the days I missed.  But hey, that annual “Teacher Appreciation Day” luncheon of catered Carrabba’s sure was good!

Deb and me at NCCAT in January.  It was pretty cold.

Deb and me at NCCAT in January. It was pretty cold.

So when RTHS English teacher and fellow Rebel Rebel Alliance member Deb Brown came to me in the fall with a plan to apply for a week-long residency at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching for us to work on humanities-related flipped videos, I was skeptical.  Surely they wouldn’t let both of us leave for an entire week, right?

Not only did he approve our trip to Cullowhee for the week once we were accepted, but we didn’t have to pay for our substitutes either.  Since there’s very little supplemental video material already in existence for the humanities, Deb and I spent the entire week working on flipped videos for our classes as well as sketching out 10th grade curricula for English and social studies.

And then, this past week, I was able to get away for two days with Mamie Hall, the other half of the history department, for the annual North Carolina Council for the Social Studies conference in Greensboro.  We spent a couple of days going to seminars mostly about implementing technology in the classroom, although I did spend some time in one very unproductive session on the new Measures of Student Learning exams, which just devolved into teachers bitching almost immediately.

Sometimes, teachers just need to get out of the classroom for a few days – not only to recharge and rest up, but also to chew the fat with colleagues and learn new and/or better ways of teaching.  I’m glad I teach at a place that recognizes the importance of that.

And they’re letting me go to the AP Reading in June too.


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The primary mission at Research Triangle High School is not much different than any other high school in America – teach the students we have under our roof on a daily basis, get them excited about learning, and help them grow into well-rounded, educated young adults.

But that’s not all we do.  According to our charter, another incredibly important facet of our mission is to “increase access to globally competitive STEM education for students and teachers across North Carolina.”  Furthermore, our aim is to “[d]evelop the outreach component of the school in online and virtual tools and methods and ensure the establishment and growth of open source availability of those tools.”

Since we’re on the cutting edge with regards to the Flipped Classroom model, we’re a laboratory school of sorts.  Furthermore, since our videos are all on YouTube, anyone can use them – if they happen across them, students struggling in their classes can use our videos for additional explanation of a topic, or teachers can use them to supplement something they did in class.  I didn’t know if that was actually happening until last night.

One of the things I do on a semi-regular basis is check the number of views on the videos we make – partly out of pure curiosity, but mainly so I can jump down the kids’ throats for not doing enough studying and review of the content.  When I clicked on our nine-minute video covering the era of absolute monarchy in France, one comment under the video caught my attention:

This helped for my history test.  Thanks alot [sic].

I re-read the comment, probably with one eyebrow raised.  That’s weird, I thought to myself.  I’m not giving a test on this stuff until tomorrow.  I clicked on the account holder’s name to figure out who this was, and the first thing I saw was the person’s location.


I had a good friend from college who taught high school students in Africa.  But he had to join the Peace Corps and live in Tanzania for two years to do it.  I taught someone in Africa and I didn’t leave Durham!  I emailed the administration to share with them this funny little tidbit; our managing director sent it along to the entire board, several of whom responded with excitement at us having some proof of reaching outside our school community.  My boss Eric had the best response, though – “L’mpeg c’est moi.

While this is just anecdotal evidence of having accomplished our mission, it actually makes me excited about making these materials that anyone can use.  It comes with a little bit of pressure, though – if these videos can be seen the world over, I better not screw any content up!

Of course, I can also leverage this with the classes.  If I can get someone in AFRICA to watch my videos, what’s the matter with you?!

And in the event you were curious, here’s the video in question.  Like all our videos the production quality is quite low, but it does the job.

The rest of the All-North Carolina Team


During last night’s North Carolina-N.C. State game, sometime before Jess flipped the channel in disgust, Dick Vitale unveiled his “All-North Carolina Team” – the five best college basketball players who played in the state.

I’m not sure if he did this with filling out the positions in mind, but it actually works out really well.

— Phil Ford (North Carolina, 1974-78), easily the best floor general in ACC history, is the obvious choice to run the point, and Michael Jordan (North Carolina, 1981-84) joins him in the backcourt.

— David Thompson (N.C. State, 1972-75) is, at 6-foot-4, actually two inches shorter than Jordan, but played quite a bit of small forward in college due to his 48-inch vertical leap, and Ford would have a great deal of fun serving Thompson the alley-oops that Thompson essentially invented at N.C. State (they were alley-oop layups, though, since dunking was outlawed in NCAA basketball from 1968 to 1976).

— Christian Laettner (Duke, 1988-92) and Tim Duncan (Wake Forest 1993-97) both stand 6-foot-11 and alternated between power forward and center in their careers, so they’re really interchangeable.

It’s a formidable lineup, for sure, and I think Vitale accurately identified the best five.  But every basketball team needs a bench, and coaches.  So who fills out the roster?  First, some ground rules.

1. Since Vitale apparently balanced the starting five by position, I’ll do the same with the bench: four guards, four forwards, and two post players.

2. Only players’ college careers are taken into account.  If Vitale considered NBA accomplishments in making his starting lineup, Laettner and Ford don’t make it, and Thompson is iffy.

3. Criteria, in no particular order, are simply collegiate statistics and the accomplishments of the players’ team(s).  “Bonus” consideration may be given to players who were local products coming out of high school.

Let’s do this!


My favorite picture of Stephen Curry.

Stephen Curry (Davidson, 2006-09) fills a huge need missing from the starting five with his long-range shooting, hitting 414 three-pointers and averaging 25.3 points per game during his three-year career with the Wildcats.  He mainly makes the team, though, based on Davidson’s run to the Elite Eight in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, where the Wildcats, despite being only a #10 seed, defeated #2 Georgetown and #3 Wisconsin before losing by only two to top-seed Kansas in the regional final.  While Davidson had some solid role players on the team in Jason Richards and Andrew Lovedale, it’s safe to say that Davidson doesn’t go anywhere without Stephen Curry and his impressively gaudy statistics.

Johnny Dawkins (Duke, 1982-86) is the obvious choice to serve as the backup point guard.  The 1986 National Player of the Year held Duke’s all-time scoring mark until being eclipsed by J.J. Redick in 2006, averaging over 20 points per game.  He made his true mark in his senior campaign when he led Duke to a 37-3 record and their first national title game in the Mike Krzyzewski era, losing by three to Louisville.

Rodney Monroe (N.C. State, 1987-91), the “Ice” in the Wolfpack’s “Fire and Ice” duo along with Chris Corchiani, surpassed Thompson’s all-time scoring mark at N.C. State en route to the 1991 ACC Player of the Year award, averaging 27 points per game during his senior campaign.  The one negative mark on his legacy is that the Wolfpack could not make it past the Sweet Sixteen during his career, despite the team having three highly talented players in Monroe, Corchiani, and Tom Gugliotta.

Jay Williams (Duke, 1999-2002) saw his NBA career cut short by a motorcycle accident and subsequent nagging injuries, but had a stellar career for the Blue Devils.  The consensus 2002 National Player of the Year scored 2,079 points in three seasons, including an average of nearly 26 points per game in the 2001 NCAA Tournament during Duke’s run to that year’s national title.  His postseason performance puts him ahead of one very notable contemporary in the state during this time, Chris Paul.

Honarable mention: Brett Blizzard (UNC-Wilmington), Randolph Childress (Wake), Vinny Del Negro (N.C. State), Earl Monroe (Winston-Salem State), Jeff Mullins (Duke), Chris Paul (Wake), J.J. Redick (Duke), Dick Snyder (Davidson), Monte Towe (N.C. State), Henry Williams (Charlotte).


Grant Hill (Duke, 1990-94) doesn’t have the huge statistics that some other candidates may have, but this team needs him in the postseason.  Duke won two titles and made a third championship game during his four years in Durham, and even though he scored nearly 2,000 points in his career, he’s best known in Duke lore for one assist – the 75-foot pass to Laettner that set up his legendary game winner against Kentucky in the 1992 regional final.  And while professional careers don’t factor into being named to this team, it’s worth noting that Grant Hill has had a much better pro career than most Duke players, in that he didn’t completely bomb.

Antawn Jamison (North Carolina, 1995-98) didn’t win a title with the Tar Heels, but did lead them to back-to-back Final Fours in 1997 and 1998 along with Vince Carter.  He would be a shoo-in for this  list had Carolina actually come away with a title during his career, but back-to-back losses in the national semifinal despite the Tar Heels being heavily favored put him on the bubble.  The Charlotte product and 1998 National Player of the Year makes it by virtue of averaging a double-double for his career (19.9 points, 10.0 rebounds), despite being on a loaded team along with the likes Carter, Brendan Haywood, and Shammond Williams.

Cornbread Maxwell led Charlotte with 25 points in the 1977 Elite Eight win over Michigan.

Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell (Charlotte, 1973-77) bypasses several nationally-recognized players on this list for two reasons.  First of all, it’s my list and I can include whomever I want, including legends from my alma mater.  Secondly, and most notably, Maxwell was crucial in taking the 49ers from neophyte unknowns to the college basketball promised land in the mid-1970s.  In four years, Kinston native Maxwell scored 1,824 points, all while he and point guard Melvin Watkins led the Niners to a 58-0 home mark, the 1976 NIT Finals (after beang N.C. State in the semifinals), and a shocking win over #1 Michigan in the 1977 regional finals in Charlotte’s first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.  The lone black mark, though, came in his final meaningful collegiate game at the Final Four, when a court-length pass by Marquette slipped through Maxwell’s hands and to Warriors player Jerome Whitehead directly under the basket, who laid in the game-winner at the buzzer to send the 49ers home.

James Worthy (North Carolina, 1979-82) had quite a year in 1982.  The Gastonia product was a consensus first-team All-American and scored 29 points in the Tar Heels’ 63-62 victory over Georgetown in the national title game – earning the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award in the process – and was the top pick by the Lakers in the NBA Draft.  Despite often being overshadowed on his own team by Jordan and Sam Perkins, and in the ACC by Virginia’s Ralph Sampson, Worthy sowed the seeds of his “Big Game James” moniker with the Tar Heels.

Honorable mention: Vince Carter (North Carolina), Len Chappell (Wake), Julius Hodge (N.C. State), DeMarco Johnson (Charlotte), Sam Perkins (North Carolina), Rodney Rogers (Wake), Lennie Rosenbluth (North Carolina).


Tom Burleson (N.C. State, 1971-74) actually only stood a slight 7-foot-2 instead of the 7-foot-4 that N.C. State advertised him as, but the Avery County native still towered above the opposition both literally and figuratively during his three year career.  Along with Thompson and Monte Towe, Burleson helped lead State to an undefeated probation-marred 1973 campaign and the 1974 national title while averaging 19 points and 13 rebounds per game for his career.

Mike Gminski rips down a rebound in the 1979 ACC championship game in Greensboro.

Mike Gminski (Duke, 1976-80) holds a special place in the hearts of many North Carolina fans for his stint as a fan favorite with the Charlotte Hornets during the twilight of his NBA career in the early ’90s.  Before that, though, he was a dominating presence in the middle for the Blue Devils, graduating in 1980 as Duke’s career leader in points, rebounds, and blocks; despite all the greats that have come through Duke in the past 30 years, he still ranks in the top five in all three categories.  He also led the Blue Devils to the 1978 title game, losing to Kentucky but setting the stage for Duke’s rise to national prominence in the 1980s.

Honorable mention: Thurl Bailey (N.C. State), Elton Brand (Duke), Artis Gilmore (Gardner-Webb), Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina), Fred Hetzel (Davidson), Eric Montross (North Carolina).

Head Coach

Mike Krzyzewski (Duke, 1980-present) edges out the other obvious choice here in Dean Smith based on empirical evidence alone – four national championships to Smith’s two and Krzyzewski’s edge in wins.  The Blue Devils were an occasional good team but often languished in the middle prior to Krzyzewski’s arrival; under him, they’ve become an institution.

Assistant Coaches

Dean Smith (North Carolina, 1961-97) is the associate head coach on this dream coaching staff.

Jim Valvano (N.C. State, 1980-90) is clearly needed for the motivational speeches before the game and at halftime.  Don’t ever give up.

Lefty Driesell (Davidson, 1960-69) turned Davidson into a national power in the 1960s along with star players Fred Hetzel and Dick Snyder, and under his stewardship the Wildcats went to consecutive Elite Eights in 1968 and 1969.

Honorable mention: Everett Case (N.C. State), Clarence Gaines (Winston-Salem State), Frank McGuire (North Carolina), Bob McKillop (Davidson), Bones McKinney (Wake Forest), Jeff Mullins (Charlotte), Dave Odom (Wake Forest), Norm Sloan (N.C. State), Roy Williams (North Carolina).

So, who did I miss?  Who am I wildly wrong about?  I’m sure some people have some opinions and I’m curious to hear them.

Snow day!

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December 26, 2010 - the last time before tonight I saw snow.

December 26, 2010 – the last time before tonight I saw snow.

On Monday, the temperature cleared 70 degrees.  On Thursday night, snow blanketed the ground.

Welcome to North Carolina.

In a year full of firsts at our school – first lottery, first summer camp, first day of class, first sporting event, first dance, first exams – we have one that excites students and teachers alike: the first snow day.

All day today, the students were murmuring with excitement about the possibility of their already-long weekend being extended by the white stuff.  I heard and saw all the memes, too – snOMG, Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, “ERMAGHERD! SNERR!”, among others.  As for keeping the students from going off the walls, though, I did remember one very important nugget of wisdom from my previous teaching job: never, under any circumstances, say the S-word until the last possible minute.  I waited until about 30 seconds before dismissal in every period to explain the changes in the unit syllabus in the event of a snow day.

They were still off the chain, though.

Of course, the school was also full of what I have begun to refer to over the years as “snow snobs” – those damned northerners, god love ’em, who just have to go on and on and on and on about how when they lived in New York or Vermont or whatever, they only cancelled school if it snowed more than 4 feet, and they’d be wearing Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts to school in this snow.

I just laugh it off, though.  We get snow twice a year in the South if we’re lucky; hell, after living in Alabama for the past two years, I haven’t seen a flake of frozen precipitation since 2010.  Snow here is something that’s rare, fun, and associated primarily with carefree days out of school.  I’ve seen the snow up north thanks to a trip to the NCAA Tournament in Buffalo back in 2004, and I understand why they hate it – it’s ugly!  It sticks around for weeks and weeks, and gets muddy and run over with tires and trampled over until it just blends in to the dirt.  The fleeting nature of snow here adds to its allure, and its wonder.

So enjoy the snow, everyone.  And stay safe out there.

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