Packing Local Lunches 101

Packing Local Lunches 101

Packing your child’s lunch every day can be a challenge. Below are some tips for cutting down on costs, time, and energy you put into your child’s brown bagged lunch-and adding some locally grown goods!

  1. Most importantly, keep it simple. Making lunch for your child doesn’t have to be a struggle or a competitive sport. Just be sure you’re including a good variety: a fruit, a vegetable, a protein, and a whole grain.
  2. Cut extra raw vegetables when you are making dinner, and then toss them into small containers for the kid’s lunch. The cut veggies should keep well in the fridge, so cut enough for a few days of snacks. Want to be sure they eat their vegetables? Include a dip, hummus, or goat cheese they enjoy for dipping the veggies in.
  3. Children are almost universally drawn to the sweetness of fresh, local fruits and berries. When fresh fruit is available, pack small containers with ready-to-eat fruits. Consider slicing apples and pears into wedges, as many kids prefer the bite sized pieces. To prevent browning in the lunchbox, add a little lemon juice. When fresh fruits aren’t in season, you can rely on frozen fruits to do the job. An overabundance of fruit in the growing season can easily be transformed into frozen treats for later in the year. Frozen fruit makes a great lunch treat for you or the kids, particularly mixed into yogurt or with long- storing fruits such as apples.
  4. Take your child to the farm. Go to a farmstand or farmers’ market with your children and let them help pick out their fruits and vegetables. Kids that participate in growing, choosing, or cooking the food they’re served are much more likely to eat it. Pick your own fruits are a great way to involve the kids in putting their lunches together. At the farmstand, you can sometimes hand pick the size of apples or peaches – small for kids, and larger for adults.
  5. The more colors the better! Entice your child’s interest in lunch by providing a variety of colors in their meal, thereby magically turning it into “Rainbow Meal!” Likewise, you can highlight a fruit and vegetable of a different color each day of the week so that your child will always be wondering what is special in their lunch for Red Monday, Green Thursday, or Purple Friday. Or, if you’re up for a challenge, try to create a few meals where the majority of the contents are one color- make it Monochrome Mondays with a different color each week!

You Did It: Scholastic Expels the Bratz From Schools

You Did It: Scholastic Expels the Bratz From Schools

Thanks to you, Scholastic, Inc. will no longer be promoting the highly sexualized Bratz brand in schools.

In April, 2007, we launched a letter-writing campaign urging Scholastic to stop promoting Bratz items at their book clubs and book fairs.  You flooded Scholastic with emails urging them to stop selling books such as Lil’ Bratz Dancin Divas; Lil’ Bratz Catwalk Cuties; and Lil’ Bratz Beauty Sleepover Bash.

We were disappointed in Scholastic’s initial response. They claimed the Bratz books were important to reach “reluctant readers.” This claim seemed disingenuous, especially when the 2007-2008 Scholastic Bratz items included the Bratz: Rock Angels computer game and the Bratz Fashion Designer stencil set so elementary school students could design “the perfect purse.”

But we kept the pressure on. And in the end, more than 5,000 emails from CCFC members were too much to ignore. Scholastic has confirmed that they will no longer be selling Bratz Items in schools. We applaud Scholastic for this decision.

If you would like to thank Scholastic, you can do so by writing to:
Richard Robinson, CEO
Scholastic, Inc.
557 Broadway
New York, NY 10012
(212) 343-6100

Not All School Lunches Are Created Equal

What’s For Lunch?

As students of all ages go back to school this month, they all have one thing in common-school lunch. Not all school lunches are created equal, and some have come a long way from the days of mystery meat. As Local Hero members, several local schools and colleges are making great efforts to be sure that their students are eating healthier meals made with locally grown produce. UMass Amherst recently won the prestigious Ivy Award for excellence in food service-largely earned from their commitment to integrating fresh, local produce into the menu. Likewise, Northfield Mount Hermon, a private boarding school in Gill, not only makes it a priority to purchase locally-grown produce; they grow a portion of their cafeteria food on their school farm! At Northfield Mount Hermon, knowing where cafeteria food comes from is part of the curriculum, culture, and practice of the institution.

September 22-27th marks the second annual Massachusetts Harvest for Students Week. This week-long event is organized by the Massachusetts Farm to School Project, and is designed to highlight the work that schools all over Massachusetts are doing to serve local food to their students, and to help more schools get started serving local foods. Most schools will participate by serving up local fare and inviting local legislators and farmers to share the meal. Some schools may take field trips to local farms to find out exactly where their lunch comes from. Seeds of Solidarity Education Center, Inc. will celebrate the week by sowing 2,008 seeds in the school gardens they’ve helped to create.  Read the rest of this entry »

Back-to-School 2008

Back-to-School Countdown

Whether your child will be heading off to kindergarten or college, we’re offering a prep course on all things back to school. Sharpen those No. 2 pencils, and learn how your kids—and you—can make the grade:

• Biggest back-to-school woes

• What teachers wish you knew

• Teach kids the other 3 R’s

• Streamline your a.m. routine

READ MORE: Back-to-School 2008.

Countdown to Back to School: Get Organized

Countdown to Back to School: Get Organized

Back to School: When your student and your whole family get organized, going back to school will be stress free.
By Lisa Rosenthal, GreatSchools Staff

The start of school is just around the corner, so now’s the time to make sure everything is in order at your house — initial back-to-school supplies are on hand, after-school activities and care are arranged, and you’ve established a quiet, orderly place in your home for your student to keep school papers and study.

READ MORE: Countdown to Back to School: Get Organized – Massachusetts –

Back-to-School Food Ideas: Homemade and Cafeteria Lunches: Tips and Advise

School Lunch Advice for Kids at Every Age

Try the tips below to make your child’s lunch healthy AND worth looking forward to.

For home-packed lunches:

  • Avoid the morning rush by preparing lunch the night before and chilling it in the refrigerator.
  • Put slices of tomatoes in a separate bag or container so they don’t make sandwiches soggy.
  • Instead potato or corn chips, pack a healthier alternative like veggie chips, bagel rounds, or baked tortilla crisps.
  • Round out the meal with kid-sized veggies—baby carrots, celery sticks, or broccoli florets—and a low-fat or fat-free dip.
  • Low-fat, high fiber mini muffins make a great dessert alternative to cupcakes or high-fat cookies.
  • Use a cookie cutter to transform a plain square sandwich into something unique.
  • Turn a container of low-fat yogurt into a complete meal by sending along some stir-ins like granola, trail mix, unsalted chopped nuts, or whole grain cereal.
  • Consider alternatives to sandwich bread like burger buns, pita rounds, soft tortillas, and large lettuce leaves (for a no-sog wrap for savory fillings)

For school cafeteria lunches:

  • Look over the cafeteria menu with your child ahead of time. Try to agree on items your child like and that are healthy.
  • Early in the school year, try to arrange to have lunch with your child at the cafeteria. Use this as an opportunity to model your own healthy food choices.
  • Ask the school’s parent-teacher group to arrange a presentation by the food service department. Express your interest in ensuring that healthy food choices be offered in school cafeterias and vending machines

READ MORE: Back-to-School Food Ideas: Homemade and Cafeteria Lunches: Tips and Advice –

Back-to-School Supplies

School Supply Lists has posted a K-2: Back-to-School Supply List families might find useful.

Before you shop for back-to-school supplies, it’s best to get a list of what’s required from your child’s school or new teacher. If the school list isn’t available yet, you can still take advantage of back-to-school sales by sticking to the basics that you know your child will need. Click here to read more.

They also have a 3rd-5th Grade Back-to-School Supply List along with a Middle School Back-to-School Supply List.

ACT NOW: Support Healthy School Nutrition. Get Junk Food Out of MA Schools.

Support MPHA’s Efforts to

House Bill 4376, An Act to Promote Proper School Nutrition

THE PROBLEM: Junk food and sugary drinks are contributing to an epidemic of obesity and diabetes among our children.

In Massachusetts, 26% of high school students are overweight or obese.

Rates of obesity among children have more than doubled in the past two decades.

Overweight children are at higher risk of developing diabetes, asthma, heart disease, depression and low self-esteem. Poor nutrition also reduces children’s ability to learn.

Children are over-eating food and drinks high in fat and sugar. One source of this problem is the sale of junk food in schools. The easy availability of candy bars, chips, and soda in school vending machines encourage unhealthy eating habits.

A SOLUTION: Healthy food choices for our children at school.

The time to prevent obesity is in childhood and schools are an excellent place to start. Children learn the habits of a lifetime in school – one of those habits should be healthy eating.

HOUSE BILL 4376, An Act to Promote Proper School Nutrition:

  • Directs the Department of Public Health (DPH) to establish healthy standards for snacks and beverages sold in vending machines, school stores, and cafeteria ala carte lines. These standards are to be in accordance with Institute of Medicine guidelines, which recommend that sodas be replaced with water, low- and non-fat milk, and juice; fat and sugar be reduced in snacks; and fresh fruits and vegetables be made available in cafeterias.
  • Establishes a Governor’s Commission on Childhood Obesity to develop a coordinated statewide plan to reduce childhood obesity.
  • Requires DPH and the Department of Education (DOE) to set guidelines for the training of school nurses to help children with diabetes and eating disorders and to collect and evaluate data on these conditions.
  • Calls for an investigation of how to make it easier for schools to purchase fresh foods from local farmers. One 20 ounce soda has 17 teaspoons of sugar and 250 “empty” calorie

ACTION: Your help is needed to pass this bill!

  • ENDORSE the bill by filling out and returning the endorsement form to MPHA (click here).
  • CONTACT your state legislators and urge them to support House Bill 4376, An Act to Pro-mote Proper School Nutrition. To determine who they are, visit, or contact MPHA. Then call your legislators at the State House: (617) 722-2000.
  • SHARE copies of this fact sheet with your friends, family, and neighbors and urge them to contact their legislators.
  • ASK your school board members, PTA, church, or hospital to endorse this bill.
  • WRITE a letter to your local newspaper in support of this bill

Read the rest of this entry »

Web Review: Fireworks, Chemical of the Week

Chemical of the Week: Fireworks

This explanation of the chemistry of fireworks discusses the compounds that produce specific colors of fireworks, the production and ignition of fireworks, the reactions (oxidations and reductions) that cause the explosions, fireworks safety, and the origins of gunpowder. From a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Click here to review the site. [(c) LII]

An excellent site for students of home studies.

Why Are Schools Designed Like Prisons?

Why Are Schools Designed Like Prisons?
By Allison Arieff, New York Times

[May 12, 2008] School design, particularly public school design, is often lumped in with the design of other institutional structures like jails, civic centers and hospitals, to detrimental effect. My high school, for example, had the dubious distinction of having been designed by the architect responsible for San Quentin. (The convicts got the better building.) Schools fulfill a practical function, to be sure, but shouldn’t they be designed to inspire?

Many preschools already are: outdoor activities are emphasized — swinging, walking, digging. But as kids get older, in this generation more than any that has preceded it, the time they spend in nature decreases significantly.

Read more …

Bully Prevention Resources

Department of Public Health Releases Anti-Bullying Guide

Statewide, nearly one in four students reports being bullied at school, and the statistics are even harsher for students who are labeled as being different by their peers. It’s not great news for bullies, either, as 60% of Grade 6 – 9 bullies are convicted of a crime by age 24.

“Bullying is not an inevitable part of growing up, and we need to do more to stop it,” said DPH Commissioner John Auerbach. “No guide alone can change a culture of bullying, but we hope this guide will help by providing administrators, teachers and students with practical advice on what works and what doesn’t work in preventing bullying.

  • Click here to review the DPH’S Bullying Prevention Resources and Anti-Bullying Guide.

School Snack: Recess BEFORE Lunch?

Eco-Friendly Fundraisers

Recycling Program to Raise Funds

For-profit company EcoPhones is one of several companies that offer community groups and non-profits the opportunity to raise funds for their organization or group by collecting small electronics items to be recycled, including:

  • cell phones
  • DVD movies
  • video games
  • portable DVD players
  • laptop/notebook computers
  • MP3 players
  • video game consoles
  • digital cameras
  • digital picture frames
  • portable navigation and GPS devices

Click here to read the article Cell phone recycling for cash a win-win, or is it? on about these types of eco-friendly fundraisers being offered to such groups.

Local Fundraising Efforts

The Gateway Regional High School (Huntington, MA) Cheerleaders are raising money to help send the team to summer cheerleading camp and will be participating in the EcoPhones fundraising program by collecting the above mentioned items. There is a collection bin in the main entrance foyer of the Gateway Middle/High School complex to deposit donations. Collection will run through the end of the school year.

For more information email Karen Smith at, read the flyer, or go to the EcoPhones Website.

Other Eco-Friendly Fundraising Ideas

Recycling old cell phones and such isn’t the only way to have an “eco-friendly fundraiser.” Click here to read the article Finding Green Fundraisers on to discover other ideas and programs.

National School Lunch Program – Can We Fix It?

Getting at the Meat of the Matter

In February of this year the United States saw the largest beef recall in its history after video footage from inside a California slaughterhouse created concerns regarding the safety of 143 million pounds of meat. Within days of the recall, word got out that roughly one-third of the recalled beef was purchased for federal nutrition programs, most notably for the National School Lunch Program. Still later it was revealed that at least 20 million pounds of that beef had already been consumed by school children across the country. Another 15 million pounds were still missing several weeks after the recall-largely because much of the meat was processed into nuggets and other pre-made meal items before being sent to schools. This news revealed some of the inner workings of our food system and left many parents with pressing questions about what their kids are eating. So how does this food get on our children’s plates? And if we know there is a problem, why can’t we fix it? Read the rest of this entry »

How to Navigate School Food Law & Policy

Mapping School Food: A Policy Guide
A New Resource from the Public Health Advocacy Institute

Improving the school food environment can be a difficult task, and understanding school food law and policy can be a barrier to getting started. That’s why this new guide from the Public Health Advocacy Institute is so invaluable. Mapping School Food was written to help legislators, advocates, parents, teachers and anyone interested in improving school food navigate school food law and policy.

Mapping School Food is an innovative guide that describes school food policy from the perspective of different personnel in the school system. It also provides tools to help advocates find answers, resolve conflicts, and build consensus for improving school food in their community. Click here to download your free copy today. Read the rest of this entry »

When One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

One mother’s journey with teaching, music and the care of her son.

Connie & her son JacksonI met Connie Gillies of Constant Wonder this summer when she and Alice Weiser performed at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA, and we became instant friends. (Click here to read the review) As we’ve gotten to know one another I’ve discovered that not only is Connie a musician, but she is also a kindergarten teacher, starting a new position as a teacher for a Kindergarten Enrichment Program in Northport, NY. We’ve discussed sharing her adventures and projects with her new class here on Hilltown Families and we’re both very excited about the possibilities. Since classes began last fall, Connie’s sent me music they’ve composed, and images of art work and projects. But before we start to share her inspiring projects, I’ve asked Connie to give us an introduction to herself. As I’ve gotten to know Connie she’s also shared with me her struggles and journey as a mother of a young son with Juvenile Diabetes. To follow is her story of that journey. It’s a mother’s journey. An artists journey. An teachers journey. A journey that passes through doors of experience and possibility. Meet my friend Connie…


She’s Back! An Introduction to Me
by HF Contributing Writer, Connie Gillies of Constant Wonder

Frederick the Mouse (c) Connie GilliesNothing to me is as heartwarming as young children singing a song that I have written. It is the highest compliment and I thoroughly enjoy it when they add their own personality to the song. (Click here to listen to them sing The Frederick Song.) As I looked into each of the faces of my new Kindergarten Enrichment students, I was captivated for a moment. Scanning the group from right to left, appreciating each of their pantomimed movements. They were singing one of my favorite yet less elaborate compositions, swinging their little arms in an upward motion in order to outline large imaginary mouse ears. The song they were singing is a short little tune, yet conveys a very important message about our classroom pet, a sweet little field mouse. His name is Frederick, named after the main character in Leo Lionni’s book, Frederick, and he is a poet with the magical ability to leave the children a new poem in his pocket each day.

As the song ends and the children curl their imaginary paws and poise with a enthusiastic “squeak, squeak,” I stand before them as their new teacher in my new classroom (decorated with the utmost of care!) and for a moment I feel like Diane Keaton in Baby Boom. Unlike Ms. Keaton catching herself in a corporate office bathroom mirror and verbally confirming to her reflection “She’s back!” I was making my confirmation by diving into the faces and souls of twelve adorable kindergartners. I was back! I was a classroom teacher again! Read the rest of this entry »

National School Boards Association ED Responds to Schools Selling to Kids on Myspace

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood asks the National School Boards Association to Disavow Industry-Funded Report on Social Networking

Local educators need objective, honest information – not marketing hype – to guide their efforts toward helping students grapple with the current unprecedented convergence of sophisticated, ubiquitous media technology and unfettered commercialism. The escalating push to drive kids to commercial online social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, that are rife with embedded advertising, is getting a boost from an unexpected quarter — the National School Boards Association (NSBA).

One of the most recent calls for action by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has encouraged concerned parents to read a report published by the NSBA urging school boards to reconsider any rules against using commercial social networking sites in classrooms. While extolling the educational benefits of these sites in this report, it makes no mention of the fact that the primary purpose is to generate advertising revenue. This omission is not surprising seeing as the research, conducted by a public relations firm which is selling its data to corporations who wish to exploit it, was funded by Microsoft (which has a financial stake in Facebook), News Corporation (which owns MySpace) and Verizon, which advertises on both sites. (Click here to read the report)

Anne L. Bryant, Executive Director or the National School Boards Association, has sent a prompt response to one concerned parent’s letter:

Read the rest of this entry »

Why is the National School Boards Association Selling Kids on MySpace?

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood Asks National School Boards Association to Disavow Report on Social Networking

With marketers seeking twenty-four/seven access to children, it is more important than ever that advocates for children maintain their independence from the corporations that seek access to the lucrative kids market. That’s why it is so disappointing that the National School Boards Association partnered with News Corporation (owners of MySpace) and Microsoft (part owner of Facebook) to produce a report on the educational potential of social networking sites. Not surprisingly, the report reads more like industry PR than an objective look at the sites. The report makes no mention of the fact that the primary purpose of the leading social networking sites is to generate advertising revenue or that marketing for fast food, violent media, alcohol and tobacco is rampant on MySpace. It also urges local school boards to school boards to reconsider any rules against using commercial social networking sites in classrooms.

Marketing on MySpace includes ads promoting fast food giants McDonald’s, Burger King and Jack-in-the-Box; tobacco brands including Marlboro, Camel, and Skoal; and brands of alcohol including Skyy Vodka and Captain Morgan. The Captain Morgan MySpace page explicitly promotes binge drinking and alcohol-fueled sexual activity.

Both MySpace and Facebook also plan to mine users’ profiles for data that will allow marketers to send ads targeted specifically to their interests. Facebook is also encouraging young users to allow the company to send their friends unsolicited ads disguised as personal endorsements.

You can read more about CCFC’s concerns in their press release or this article in the LA Times. And if you haven’t yet done so, please take a moment to tell the NSBA to Stop Selling Kids on MySpace. Local educators need objective, honest information – not marketing hype – to guide their efforts toward helping students grapple with the current unprecedented convergence of sophisticated, ubiquitous media technology and unfettered commercialism.

Read the rest of this entry »

School Cafeteria’s Serving Up Local Food In MA

Mass Harvest for Mass Students Week Wrap-up

The first ever Massachusetts Harvest for Students Week, organized by the Massachusetts Farm to School Project, was a celebration of locally grown food in schools across the state. The week’s goals were to highlight the work that schools all over Massachusetts are already doing to serve local food to their students, and to help more schools get started. We would like to highlight some of the wonderful, fun ways that cafeteria staffs, students, farmers and school administrators participated in this special, festive week.

Schools across the Commonwealth found new ways to showcase the importance of incorporating local foods into schools throughout the week. Somerville Public School students found themselves shucking corn alongside school administrators in preparation for a school lunch showcasing local corn, pears, melon, apples, tomatoes, and zucchini. In Chicopee, where cafeterias regularly feature potato wedges cut from fresh, local potatoes, the students enjoyed another treat: their food service director, teachers, and administrators dancing around in veggie costumes!

The week gave many districts, like Chicopee and Worchester, the opportunity to get the word out about their ongoing relationships with local farmers, while roughly thirty school districts took advantage of the chance to test the waters of buying locally.

Cafeterias were not the only locations to see some local food action, as a variety of other programs were conducted throughout the week. The Wood School in Plainville, MA held an assembly that featured a performance group called FoodPlay, which had kids dancing and laughing while learning about the importance of eating healthy foods. And at Gateway Regional School, special education students took a field trip to a local orchard where they got to tour the farm and pick their own apples.

Approximately 100 Massachusetts school districts and colleges put local foods on their menus for the Mass Harvest for Students Week. According to Kelly Erwin, Managing Consultant for the Mass Farm to School Project, schools that buy locally often see a financial benefit because more students buy school lunches as the meals become more appetizing. Worcester Public Schools, for example, have seen a fifteen percent increase in school lunch purchases since the district began buying locally. But these benefits aren’t limited to the schools-the 50 farms providing products to local schools in Massachusetts are generating more than $700,000 in additional revenue each year. To date there are more than 85 public school districts and 13 colleges across the state serving local food on a regular basis.

For more information about the Massachusetts Harvest for Students Week or the Massachusetts Farm to School Project, please click here or contact Kelly Erwin at or 413-253-3844.

(c)2007 CISA Farm to School Monthly Newsletter. Reprinted with permission.

School Snack: Down in the Backpack

For Hungry Kids, Backpacks Lighten Load
By Cara Bafile, Education World

Students who are disruptive, can’t concentrate, or lack motivation may not need a firm hand; they might need a helping hand! From Nebraska to Texas to New York, administrators have found that some of the kids in their care can’t function well at school not because they don’t want to learn but because they are hungry. With the help of communities, the simple remedy is a backpack — a school standby — that is filled with food supplies to help kids get the fuel they need to flourish.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rainbow Report Card

Does your child’s school make the grade?

Family Pride offers a Rainbow Report Card, an interactive tool that generates custom recommendations for a family’s situation in schools.

Encouraging our schools to be more inclusive each day makes a world of difference in the education of all children. The Rainbow Report Card is only the beginning of a series of projects Family Pride will launch aimed at empowering parents to make change in schools.

Get started by clicking here.

Unite & Write for Hilltown Schools

Unite & Write for Better Funding of Small and Rural Schools in MA

Parents and community members are urged to email the Friends of Gateway to be registered in a data-base of people willing to Unite and Write for better funding of small and rural schools in Massachusetts.

“Both schools and towns have been hamstrung by the lack of state funding,” said Friends of Gateway (FOG) President Deb Carnes. “It’s time to take a stand to keep our schools strong, our towns viable, and our tax rates affordable for everybody.”

Huntington Schools Offer Laptop Leasing for Students

Gateway School District Offers New Round of Laptops for Student Lease

Gateway school district in Huntington, MA, is offering a new round of laptop leases to students for the 2007-08 school year! Gateway’s 1 to 1 Laptop Program gives all students in grades 7 – 12 the opportunity to lease or purchase their own personal laptop for use at school and at home.

Registration forms and lease agreements must be submitted by August 1st; laptops will be distributed to families the week of August 27th.

Informational meetings for all interested families will be held in the Gateway Performing Arts Center (Middle/High School complex) at 6:30 p.m. on July 17; 6:00 p.m. on July 19; and 6:30 p.m. on July 26. Read the rest of this entry »

Scholastic VP responds to distribution of Bratz books in schools

Marketing the Sexualization of Young Girls


One of the most recent calls for action by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has encouraged concerned parents to tell Scholastic to stop distributing Bratz books in schools through their Book Clubs and School Book Fairs.

A recent report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls had drawn attention to the proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harming girls’ self-image and healthy development. This report explores the cognitive and emotional consequences, consequences for mental and physical health, and impact on development of a healthy sexual self-image. (Click here to read the report)

Books of The Bratz – a line of highly sexualized dolls for girls as young as four are – being marketed in schools by Scholastic, Inc. Scholastic promotes Bratz through its book fairs and book clubs, selling titles such as Lil’ Bratz Dancin Divas; Lil’ Bratz Catwalk Cuties; and Lil’ Bratz Beauty Sleepover Bash to a captive audience of young students.

Kyle Good, Vice President at Scholastic, has sent a prompt response to one concerned parent’s request to reconsider their distribution in schools:
Read the rest of this entry »

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