Posts Tagged 'counseling'

Having a Crush or Being Crushing?

red-love-heart-valentines.jpgBy Sabrina Bartels – When I was in elementary school, one of the boys in my class shoved me to the ground during a routine game of tag. As my friend took me to the office for my skinned knee, she smiled and whispered, “I think he likes you. My mom said that when a boy is mean to you, that’s him showing that he likes you.” I was skeptical of her viewpoint. But three days later, that same boy who is the reason I have a scar on my right knee passed me a note that said I was pretty.

That was my first experience with a boy being mean as a way to show affection. And it wasn’t just physical things either. As I got into middle school, I would watch boys tease girls or make fun of them in class, only to have them turn around a few days later and tell the girls that they had a crush on them. I remember one boy shouting at a girl in class that she was one of the dumbest people he knew, but then asked her out a week later. It was confusing, but something that I eventually grew to accept. It must be “a boy thing.”

Now that I’m working in a middle school, I find myself hearing a lot about boys who are mean to girls. There are boys who shove girls in gym class, insult them in front of the entire class, take their phones, or French-lock their lockers (turn their locks the wrong way, making it near impossible to get into their lockers). Many times, groups of girls congregate in my office, asking why boys are so stupid and do the things they do. And almost every time, their friends or I will suggest that it’s the boy’s way of expressing their crush.

Recently on Facebook, videos and posts have been circulating about the harsh physicality that boys show to girls when they have a crush. One particular post made me pause. It said “Don’t tell your daughter that when a boy is mean or rude to her it’s because he has a crush on her. Don’t teach her that abuse is a sign of love.” A person then responded, “A million times YES. Do not spread that bull. There is NO love in abuse.”

Reading that post really hit me.

Every time I tell one of my girls that a boy did something mean because he has a crush on her, I am validating the boy’s behavior. I’m saying it’s okay. I’m saying that it’s “a boy thing” and that they will eventually grow out of it. But that’s the thing: Not every boy grows out of it. A lot of them do, I’m sure, but some don’t. Some take that belief of “it’s okay to be mean because that’s how I should be showing a girl I like her.” And then there are some girls who go through life thinking that “it’s okay if he’s mean to me; that’s just how boys are.”

I always thought by telling these girls that a boy is acting that way because he likes her, she will be flattered. She will look at boys’ behaviors differently. I never thought that I would unconsciously be implying that boys can treat girls poorly, and it’s okay.

I think about the people that I know who have been in physically or emotionally abusive relationships. So many times, I have heard people say that they “deserved” the abuse; they antagonized their significant other or “nagged” them after a bad day. Some people say that they took someone for better or worse, and that the “worse” part is now. Others say that this is just the way their significant other is.

Would I be able to look at them and say “Oh, it’s just his way of showing that he loves you?” Or “Don’t mind her, she’s just being a typical girl?’

Of course not.

But here I am, talking to my middle school students, excusing people’s behavior because it may be the way they show affection.

That post on Facebook was a huge wake-up call for me. It showed me the power that my words can have, and how carefully I need to choose my words. It also emphasized the point that cruelty to anyone is wrong, whether it is a joke or not. And I, as an educator and an adult, need to stop excusing it. Boy or girl, no one should be mean to show affection. No one should be mean to others, period.

So the next time that student comes into my office, wondering why another is acting rude to them, I will not tell them that it’s just that person’s way of showing affection. I will not brush it off. I will have a talk with my students about appropriate ways to show affection. I will not allow them to be mean, and dismiss their behavior by saying it’s just a phase, and that it’s okay.

Hopefully, this will help the next generation recognize their worth, their importance, and the kindness and gentleness of love.

In Memory of “The Patron Saint of Awkward Teenagers”

sunset-1060710_960_720.jpgBy Sabrina Bartels – On Easter, I found out that my beloved Debate and Forensics coach, Sharon Sharko, unexpectedly passed away. As the news quickly circulated around Facebook, her friends, colleagues, and former students all began sharing their favorite memories. I couldn’t shake the idea of blogging about a teacher who had such an influence on my high school career, so if it is okay with readers here, I’m going to dedicate this blog post to Sharko.

We never called her Ms. Sharko. Okay, maybe I did the very first time I met her, but stopped after that. She was always just “Sharko.” It took away the formality that usually exists between teachers and students. That lack of formality led to Sharko creating close relationships with all of her students. We were able to walk into her office at any time, before, during, or after school, and we would be greeted with a smile and a witty comment.  She would offer all kinds of advice for us as well, from what college would be best, to how to ask someone to prom. She was a wealth of knowledge on so many different things.

She also had a knack for knowing people. When I first joined her debate team, Sharko decided to pair me up with a quiet girl named Linsey. Linsey and I were debate partners for only a year, but we still talk to this day. In fact, she was a bridesmaid at my wedding. The next year, Sharko paired me up with a boy named Ken, who knew more about politics and government than I ever cared to learn. Somehow, our personalities meshed and we really clicked as debate partners. These two people that I believed had nothing in common with me have ended up being my lifelong friends. I am forever thankful to have them in my life. In fact, a lot of my core group of friends from high school were from the Debate and Forensics Team!

Sharko’s knowledge of who I was (even when I maybe didn’t know) extended to my forensics career. She placed me in a category called “Public Address,” which involves a speaker writing a speech around a controversial issue. Under Sharko’s guidance, I began to blossom as a public speaker. I learned how to use hand gestures and subtle movements to emphasize my points. I learned how to project and how to inflect emotion in my voice. A category that I had started out hating soon became my passion. I would go on to be conference champion my sophomore and senior years, and take home two silvers and a gold in state competitions.

One of my favorite memories with Sharko revolved around the first forensics meet of my senior year. I had been procrastinating (as usual) with writing my speech. The day before the meet, Sharko had asked if I wanted to practice my speech. I had to admit that I hadn’t written it yet. I remember she rolled her eyes at me (she was used to me waiting until the last minute for everything; she had, after all, had me in her AP Politics class and witnessed me crank out five-page papers two hours before class.). “Make sure you have one tomorrow,” she reminded me as I left for the day.

I went home, watched some TV, listened to music, finished my homework, and around midnight, decided it was a good time to start my speech. I wrote an 8-minute speech in an hour and practiced it twice. Okay, to be honest, I read it once to my mom that night, and once to my dad in the car as we drove to the meet.

I made it through my three rounds and then found out that I was able to go to the power round. A power round is when judges take the top five or so speakers and have them compete head-to-head. I remember Sharko wasn’t fazed in the slightest when she found out I was in the power round. She told me she had every faith in me that I would make it to that final round.

Once the power round was over, we all filed into the auditorium to get the final results. The emcee had the speakers from each category come to the stage and receive their awards. “Public Address” was called up, and I walked to the front with all of my fellow speakers. They announced the fifth place speaker, it wasn’t me. Fourth place, it wasn’t me. I remember Sharko was beaming at me for being in the top three. And then they announced third place, and it wasn’t me. That’s when Sharko and I exchanged looks of shock. At the end of the meet, as I clung to my second-place trophy, Sharko hugged me and said, “Imagine if you had written your speech a week before!” She then said she was proud of me, and that I represented our school well.

As I got older, my relationship with Sharko evolved from student-teacher to colleagues. When I decided to become a school counselor, she sent me the following message: “I think that your sense of what to say and do is going to be so helpful for kids at any age and I am very proud of your accomplishments. Counseling isn’t the easiest career, but as I said, you will be excellent.” We would talk about Forensics and the struggles educators are facing today. My last message from Sharko said, “I know teachers shouldn’t have favorites, but you were one of mine. And when you think about it, being a teacher is kind of like being a sculptor, you have to have good material to generate a work of art. And, you Sabrina, were really, really good material. Hope to talk to you soon!”

But my last memory of Sharko isn’t even my memory. It’s my husband’s.

Just last year, he and Sharko had jury duty together. The two had lunch together and reminisced about high school and Sharko’s career at Greendale. According to Rob, Sharko had talked about what a great counselor she imagined I was. I was so flattered that she told my husband this. I remember telling Rob that I should Facebook Sharko and ask her to have coffee with me, but work and life got busy. I never got around to it.

Sharon Sharko helped make me the person I am today. At her memorial, someone said that Sharko was the “patron saint of awkward teenagers.” And it’s true. When I was a shy, unsure, timid teenager, Sharko took me under her wing and helped me discover a confidence in my speaking abilities. She helped me foster a love of helping people and standing up for what I believe in. That’s what she always did. She loved and accepted every student that walked through her door, regardless of age, confidence, and beauty. She took you and made you a better person. A better speaker. A better advocate. She was always there for her students, both when we were in school and out in the real world, guiding us, supporting us unconditionally, and helping us become the wonderful, expressive adults we all are today.

Learning About Emotions from the “Inside Out”


19995797742_df5785609b_o.jpgBy Sabrina Bartels – During my lazy weekends, I love to whip up some homemade pizza, throw a movie into the DVD player, and curl up under a blanket with my husband. While our pizza tastes stay pretty static, our ideal movie varies depending on our moods. Some days, we need a good action movie, complete with car crashes and flames. Once in a while, it’s a thriller that keeps us on the edge of our seats. And sometimes, when we are in a goofy mood, we find ourselves kicking back and watching some sort of animated feature.

I’ll be honest, I will blame our nieces for our love of cartoon movies. Whenever they come over, or Rob and I drive out to see them, they want to watch a movie. It doesn’t matter that they have seen Frozen more times than I count, or that they know every word to Wreck-It Ralph; a movie is always a perfect way to end the day.

This past year, we heard tons of great things about Inside Out, so we finally decided to watch it a few nights ago. (Plus, it just won an Oscar, which shows it is the epitome of excellence!)

Let me just start by saying this: Everyone needs to watch this movie. Seriously. If you are reading this blog post now, just hop over to Amazon and buy it. Or run out and get it from Redbox. It is that fantastic.

A quick summary: The movie follows the story of Riley, a middle-school aged girl who moves across the country. As you follow her journey about moving, fitting in, and finding her niche, you are introduced to her five key emotions: Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Disgust. Each emotion has its own personality: Fear panics over everything, Anger shoots flames out of his head and is constantly crabby, and Disgust rolls her eyes at almost everything. In truth, these emotions are perfect examples of what I see in my office!

The best part of the movie is that it examines each emotion and explains all of the layers that we as humans have. As you watch, you see how Riley has different sides to her, how certain emotions can take control all of a sudden, and the dangers of shutting down emotionally when things occur. It is such an intricate look at what it is like to be a middle schooler. For me, as an adult, it explained a lot about emotions, not only what I feel, but what my students must feel. And for any of my middle school students who see the movie, they not only get to laugh (and cry) at the movie, but they also get a chance to understand why they may feel a certain way. It is such a great tool when it comes to discussing emotions.

Most importantly to me, this movie now opens up the chance to have an honest conversation about emotions and mental health. So many times, people either feel the need to hide their emotions or sweep them under the rug. Having a movie completely centered around emotions shows that it is okay to express your emotions. It is okay, and even healthy, to be in-tune with them. On the opposite side, some people may feel that their emotions – especially if they are prone to feeling overwhelmed – make them weird. This movie normalizes emotions. It makes being angry and being sad okay. It doesn’t mean that you are a freak, or weird, or “different.” It shows that experiencing several emotions at once or feeling like your emotions are clashing against each other happens, and that’s okay.

In addition to watching the movie, I’ve been spending some time on Pinterest looking at some lesson plans that people have been creating to pair with the movie. These lessons span age ranges: four year olds can create masks of each of the emotions to help them express their feelings; middle schoolers can learn about how their emotions come into play with grief; and college students can use the movie to learn about perseverance and overcoming obstacles to be successful. I really encourage that counselors and teachers browse Pinterest if they are searching for lessons on expressing emotions!

Planning for the Future: Why I Love Individual Planning Conferences

3721809183_847a705f0c.jpgBy Sabrina  Bartels – From December until February, my fellow counselors and I find ourselves consumed by individual planning conferences. During these months, we meet with every single 8th grader and his/her parent(s) to discuss high school classes and potential plans after high school. We also show parents how to use Career Locker, which is a website that we use in our 7th grade Career Pathways class. To say the least, it is a somewhat exhausting process: We each complete about 120 conferences, doing upwards of four to five conferences a day. Some days, we have so many conferences and meetings, it is difficult to meet individually with our students.

As exhausting as this process can be, there are also some fantastic benefits to doing these conferences.

  1. We get to meet with EVERY 8th grader! Yes, this leads to a lot of conferences. It leads to some stress. At the same time, we get to do individually tailored conferences for every student. We talk about THEIR plans, THEIR hopes, THEIR dreams. As easy as it could be to do one, blanket meeting about graduation requirements, being able to work with each student on an individual basis gives us the opportunity to help them figure out the best path for high school. Whether that means taking a lot of tech ed classes, or working to fit a cooking class into their schedule, our students know they are individuals and are treated accordingly.
  1. We get to meet parents! For some parents, I have always just been the voice on the phone, or a figure that their son or daughter mentions. Now parents can put a name to the face, and I am able to do the same! Also, a lot of my students have younger siblings, so I get to see some parents again and again!
  1. We receive feedback on our conferences (and, occasionally, our counseling). Our parents get a chance to fill out evaluations about their conference, as well as the counselor they met with. It is surprising how many students know you, even when you are not their primary counselor. This year, since the 8th graders are “my” students, I get a lot of comments about my counseling from students and parents. This includes one very kind note from a parent, who wrote on her evaluation that I have been a “great support to my daughter and our family for the last three years.” It feels awesome to hear that!
  1. We help our students pick their high school classes. Having parents involved in their students’ schedules not only reduces anxiety on the parents’ parts, it also shows the students that they have a support system. Parents feel better knowing their student is not taking five gym classes and two study halls; students feel empowered because they get to choose which classes they prefer; and both the parent and I get to help guide our kids to making smart decisions.
  1. We get to shower our students with compliments. We have our students do a self-reflection that asks about their strengths, talents, and what they are looking forward to in the future. This is the time when parents get a chance to tell their children how they would describe them, as well as give me a chance to compliment my students on their smart choices, good behavior, and excellent grades. So many times, I don’t get a chance to individually tell all my students that they are doing a good job; this is a wonderful opportunity to do so!

A Season for Self-Care

6808412351_d8928f0240By Dr. Lisa Edwards – “It’s that time of year!” I’ve been hearing this a lot recently from colleagues, students, and friends, and I’ve been saying it myself. There seems to be a certain level of stress in the air, an energy that you can almost feel as you walk around campus or enter a school or mental health center. There are piles of work to get done, coupled with unexpected situations and crises that have to be addressed. And in the midst of it all, each of us is trying to manage our own professional and personal lives, while avoiding the latest cold or flu. Perhaps it’s the time of semester, the change in weather, or the holidays. Either way, it can be a lot to manage.

It would be easy during this time of year to push ahead and sacrifice sleep, balanced meals and exercise to get everything off the to-do list. We could spend our moments complaining about how busy things are and day-dreaming about a more calm time. I admit that I sometimes do this—my mind will wander as I imagine a day off from work (and kids) where I can sip hot chocolate, do some baking and reading, and take a few naps.

The reality is, however, that I won’t have an entire day like this. Dreaming of this just makes me frustrated, and then I find myself complaining. So, what’s a more productive way for us to approach the season rather than working to the point of exhaustion or living in a fantasy world? Slowing down and taking the time to periodically nourish our bodies and minds.

It’s exactly in these busy times, when it feels like we can’t possibly squeeze in another minute or activity that we have to make time for self-care. Research would suggest that when we take the moments to step away from work and engage in self-care, we can actually be more productive. The consequences of not attending to self-care, of course, are that we can become sick, overwhelmed, irritable and even burned out. At that point, we surely won’t be able to accomplish anything on our to-do lists!

Below are some basic self-care strategies that are easy, brief, and that you can implement today (or even right now!):

Take 5. Try taking a walk (outside, or up and down the stairs), or doing some basic stretches to get your body moving at different points during the day. Also consider trying a short guided meditation. Sitting in silence can be challenging if you don’t already have a regular meditation practice, so guided meditations are great for helping us through the process. Some of my favorite meditations (options range from 3 to 20 minutes, about different topics) can be found at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center website:

Turn off the technology as early as possible. We all have grand plans to go to bed early, but then one activity leads to another, and another, and suddenly we are faced with getting less than an ideal amount of sleep. Research suggests that sleep is critical for our bodies for a variety of reasons, and a recent study even demonstrated that adults who were infected with a cold virus were less likely to develop the cold if they slept at least 7 hours per night. So let’s promise to turn off our phones/ iPads/ TV’s/ computers at a certain point in the evening and head to bed for some quality zzzz’s.

Pace yourself. There will be a lot of food temptations this season, many of which will be replete with the very ingredients that we know will zap our energy and increase inflammation in our bodies. Just because the cookies are there in front of us in the lounge doesn’t mean we have to take them every time. But, it can also feel discouraging to constantly deprive ourselves of a treat. Perhaps a little balance is more helpful. We can pace ourselves by having healthy breakfasts and lunches (think adding more whole fruits and vegetables) if we know we are going to indulge in treats later.

Extend compassion to others, and yourself. There are times when it’s important to hold others, and ourselves, to a certain standard or expectation. Sometimes, however, we can ease off a bit without sacrificing what we need. If a certain relative doesn’t pitch in during the holidays, cut them some slack. If a friend doesn’t seem to be as attentive this time of year, let it go. We’re all just trying to get through these busy times, so let’s be patient with one another. Most importantly, extend that same compassion to yourself. So you didn’t get to bake something for a party, or you didn’t accomplish everything on your list—oh well! None of us is perfect, and life will go on.

What self-care strategies do you do this time of year?

A Note on the Author: Lisa M. Edwards is an associate professor in the Department of Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology. Her blog,, is dedicated to sharing mommy-inspired and science-informed strategies for cultivating strengths.

Starting the Conversation about Privilege

privilege pic

By Heidi Hemling – Starting a conversation about privilege is difficult. Whether we are aware or unaware, there are situations each day that force us to confront our privilege or its deficit. I recently participated in a privilege walk with my cohort. As a graduate student, I was surprised I had never heard of or experienced this exercise. And if I’m being completely honest, I have to admit that even after learning more about the process, I was not prepared for the emotional response and deep self-reflection that would follow…

As a cohort, we stood on the lawn outside of Lalumiere; chatting, laughing, and awaiting further direction. The mood was light and the energy fun and carefree.  We were instructed to form a line and join hands. As our professor stood before us, she explained that she would begin reading a number of statements to us that had to do with topics including sexual orientation, race, gender, violence, religion, experiences with caregivers, and so on. While the statements were read, we were instructed to either take one step forward or one step back. She also reminded us that this movement may or may not require that we let go of the hand of the person next to us but encouraged us to hold onto one another as long as we were able. As we began, quiet fell over the group and our professor read many statements including, but not limited to, the following:

  • If you are reasonably sure that you will not be denied access to jobs or political resources because of your gender, take one step forward.
  • If your parents or guardians attended college, take one step forward.
  • If you were raised in an area with crime and drug activity, take one step back.
  • If you believe that you weredenied employment because of your race, gender, or ethnicity, take one step back.
  • If you went to galleries, museums, and plays with your family, take one step forward.
  • If you attended private school or summer camp, take one step forward.
  • If you were raised in a single-parent household, take one step backward.
  • If you went on a vacation out of the country before age 18, take one step forward.
  • If you have ever felt uncomfortable about a joke directed at your gender, take one step back.
  • If you are relatively sure you can enter a store without being followed, take one step forward.
  • If you have been a victim of violence because of your race, gender, class, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

In recalling this experience, one of the most impactful parts of this activity for me was feeling the energy that existed prior to the exercise slowly turn to quiet, and then fade into reflection, and still further into a very real and heavy emotional response. As we took steps forward or backward after each statement, we moved closer to and further away from each other, at times being able to join hands with someone for a moment but almost always having to let go again shortly after. I felt surprisingly sad when I could no longer stretch my hand out far enough to join with those who had stood beside me. My mind began filling with experience-specific memories connected to the privilege, or lack thereof, that those statements brought up. The reactions overwhelming my heart and mind moved on a spectrum from embarrassment to empowerment. For example, moving forward to claim my place as a first generation college student made me feel strong and resilient, while moving back only to be confronted with some of my past experiences made me feel sad and insecure. Reliving some of these moments, although very briefly and in the context of privilege, was enough to cause me to feel differently about my own unique privilege.

It was powerful to see the faces of my classmates as we completed the exercise and were instructed to look around the lawn. The group, as a whole, ended up in very different places than where we began. I struggled as I sat with the feelings of shame and insecurity bubbling up in my chest. In one swift moment, I felt judgement for ending up where I did. However, as quickly as that initial reaction occurred, it dissipated and I felt empowered for being resilient and finding the strength to overcome my circumstances. What moved me most was the look on each of our faces as our eyes were opened to the in-vivo illustration of what privilege looked like and meant in our own lives and in our future beyond our graduate program.

As the days pass, I continue to sit with the feelings and emotions that were brought up for me during our cohort’s privilege walk. I am struck by the way such a seemingly simple activity can so alter my self-perception as well as my perception of those around me. It is a poignant reminder of the frame of mind from which we need to operate. Privilege, or its deficit, is not always obvious to the eye of a passerby, however it is often at the root of the social inequalities we witness. It is capable of clouding our viewpoint and leading us to make unwarranted conclusions or assumptions. These very pitfalls are the reason we must start having difficult conversations with one another. It is essential that we become better able to recognize privilege in our lives and the power it may hold. No matter our roles; students, faculty, educators, counselors, it is our responsibility to carry an awareness of our own privilege and an understanding of how it may enhance or hinder our abilities to effectively serve those around us. We must hold ourselves accountable and use this increase in self-awareness to help remedy the social inequalities that cripple so much of the world we live in.

Talents and Tiaras: A Counselor’s Views on the Miss America Controversy

Miss_America_2014_contestantsBy Sabrina Bartels – Kelley Johnson is beautiful. She is tall and thin, with long blonde hair and a dazzling smile. She wears swimsuits and ball gowns with confidence, and prances around in high heels with ease. Of course, what else would you expect from someone who is competing in the Miss America pageant?

But what really makes Kelley Johnson beautiful is more than just what she wears or how she looks. I believe that her true beauty shone through when she stood in front of the audience and chose to give a monologue about nursing for her talent portion of the competition.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the stir this created, most notably among some of the women on the popular morning show “The View.” They made snide comments about Johnson. They criticized her outfit (Johnson wore her nursing scrubs for her monologue) and wanted to know why she wore a “doctor’s stethoscope.” One of the hosts even went so far as to comment that “this wasn’t a talent” and then laughingly noted that this is why Johnson didn’t win.

This bothered me. It really did. Not that I am a huge fan of the Miss America pageant (I’m more likely to be watching football on Sunday nights), but I was shocked and angry that influential women in today’s society felt the need to criticize Johnson for having a very real, very unique talent. Sure, it was not violin playing, ballet, or opera singing, which is what you normally see during the competition. But being a nurse is truly a gift. It takes smarts, hard work, dedication, and a certain amount of patience and skill, just like any other talent. Trust me, not everyone can be a nurse (I know I couldn’t).

It also irked me because I think there is a certain perception about women who participate in the Miss America competition. Many of my students think that Miss America only needs to be beautiful to win. Being smart is optional and not something that always gets showcased. Usually, my students who want to be models feel that they can slack at school. I remember one of my girls saying, “Let’s get real, Mrs. Bartels. When do you see Tyra Banks or Kate Moss using algebra?” And I have to admit, I haven’t seen Tyra Banks trying to find a solution for y=2x on “America’s Next Top Model.” To have people say that nursing is not a talent almost seems to validate my students’ beliefs that beautiful people do not need to be smart.

I’m not saying that any of these people – supermodels or Miss America contestants – are dumb. But I do believe that is the perception.

As a counselor, I struggle with my female students when it comes to their perceptions of what society wants. I have incredibly smart girls who pretend to be dumb in class, just so they can attract a boy’s attention. They worry that if they appear smart, boys won’t like them. I see girls starving themselves to be skinnier or giving into demands to have sex so that boys will stay with them.

I want my girls to know that there is so much more to being a woman than being beautiful. I want them to be smart. I want them to be independent. I want them to know that they do not have to rely on others to make them happy. I want them to be confident when they choose their careers, and I want them to love whatever path they pursue.

I want them to be secure in the knowledge that they are amazingly beautiful and talented, whether they compete on Miss America, or compete in a courtroom. They don’t need to wear high heels or fancy gowns or a tiara to be a role model. They can be a woman who walks around a hospital in scrubs and tennis shoes, taking care of others and saving lives.

And let me tell you: To me, that is just as much of a talent as anything else.

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