Category archive

Fall/Winter 2020

DEI at Park: The Work of Community

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The launch of Park’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Implementation Plan represents months of collaboration between administration, faculty, staff, and parents centered on ensuring that, as a community of diverse races, religions, cultures, and backgrounds united by a shared mission, we strive to meet our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism. 

The Plan itself outlines objectives across every area of school life, from academic program and curriculum, social-emotional learning and hiring, to institutional leadership, professional development, and community stewardship. Considered as a whole, the Plan defines a clear process of action stems and accountability for those who are responsible for its progress.

The DEI Implementation Plan itself is not in and of itself the answer. It is a road map, providing essential guidance for the way forward.

One of our first steps was to form a DEI Implementation Plan Steering Committee, composed of parents, trustees, faculty, and staff, who will work together to monitor, guide, and report on the Plan’s progress. This is the first collaborative working group of this kind, bringing together many voices and constituents united in our goal to advance this important work. Below are a few of the areas we are hard at work on:

  • Early initiatives include the launch this fall of a Parent SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) group, in which members of the community are joining in conversation about the many layers of belonging, inclusion, and mutual understanding. This effort  with parents joins the longstanding faculty/staff SEED initiative which is also continuing this year. The groups’ efforts begin, simply, by getting to know each other, where each person comes from, what’s inherent to the names they are known by, and the stories beyond them. As one participant noted, “Once you know someone’s story, you can’t hate them.” The work begins, then, with seeing and hearing each other — and having learned to reframe the way we see others, we take that perspective to the world beyond. Tina Fox, Lower Division Assistant Head and a Park parent, serves as one of the co-leaders of the Parent SEED effort and observes, “It has been an honor and privilege to work alongside members of our parent community as we engage in conversations and learnings that hit at the heart and the core of who we see ourselves to be. Through these courageous conversations there becomes a shared understanding and empathy for one another. By acknowledging the systems of privilege, power, and oppression that exist as well as amplifying and validating underrepresented experiences, I see this work as another step towards systematic change both as individuals and as a community.”
  • Also this fall, Park has laid the groundwork for a network of affinity groups — inviting Upper Division students, as well as parents, faculty, and staff, to come together in groups who can begin to explore what their identities mean to them in a space where all members can speak from the “I” perspective. Invitations to join the groups launched in November, and since then, facilitators have been identified and trained. We will begin the new year with our first sessions for over ten different affinity spaces. In this time of COVID, all of these spaces will be available on Zoom — we sincerely hope that in-person gatherings will be possible in the 2021-22 academic year.
  • Meanwhile, Park is completing data collection to accurately capture the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity represented by the student body, which will, going forward, support our efforts to better understand how our programs and teaching support the academic and social emotional growth of all our students. How might this data help Park teachers create safe and inclusive spaces in which students can grow and develop to their greatest potential? How might it support our efforts to build confidence, capacity, and sense of belonging for all our students? This data and questions like these will guide our work to ensure that every child has full access to the academic excellence central to Park’s mission.
  • Park’s Secondary School Counseling office has delved closely into the department’s practices and process, placing DEI priorities at the center of their work. Co-Director Matt Kessler reports, “We surveyed all the schools to which Park students most often apply regarding each school’s own commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We realized that if Park considers DEI core to its own educational mission, perspective on how a given secondary school prioritizes DEI must be part of the guidance we provide to students and families.” Co-Director Lisa DiAdamo notes that most of the schools surveyed indicated that Park was the rare school even asking these questions, and appreciated the degree to which Park sought to help families understand the overall commitment to DEI that various secondary schools were making. Matt and Lisa have also worked with faculty on “Anti-Bias Recommendation Training” in order to raise awareness and to bring the pitfalls of racial and gender bias, to which we are all susceptible, to our collective consciousness. They hosted office hours for faculty, and shared useful anti-bias resources and provided additional information about how the teachers can best support all of our students.
  • As part of this work, the Secondary School Counseling team also partnered with Olivia Morehead-Slaughter (psychologist), Julie Mumford (school counselor), Ken Rogers (Upper Division Head) and me to host a workshop to help Upper Division students and their families think through questions of racial identity development, and to help families think through their own racial identity and its impact — on their families, on others, and on their secondary school choices. It’s an ongoing conversation but we believe that helping students negotiate these priorities will support them well in their steps forward.
  • Another essential priority of the DEI Implementation plan centers around hiring. Typically, the major independent school hiring process begins in February. While retaining the strong teachers who already know Park well is always a priority, we also seek to diversify our pool of talent so that our faculty better represents the world in which we live. The Administrative team is working closely to define the policies that will guide the hiring process going forward.
  • Assistant Head of School for Academics & Program Eric Chapman observes, “We believe the strength of our educational program depends on creating a space where children learn in an environment that truly represents all the diversity of our larger community — differences in background, differences in perspective. Park’s student body is very diverse, compared to peer schools, and we aspire to do as well with our faculty.” 
  • Teachers are, by definition, wired to be student-centered thinkers. They do what they do because they care so very much about the students under their care. Yet teachers, like everyone else, are shaped by the world they know, and continue to be learners even as they are educators. At Park, every new employee now partakes in VISIONS, a DEI training program that guides participants toward deeper connection with their own selves as empathy-driven partners in an educational community, learning to listen, see and value difference, and understand our common humanity. VISIONS training continues at regular intervals for all employees through the course of the academic year, helping to continue building the tool box we need to be effective educators and constructive members of our diverse community.

The DEIIP itself is a bundle of aspiration, hope, heart, and struggle. The Plan itself is not in and of itself the answer. It is a road map, providing essential guidance for the way forward. We recognize, as Dr. Ibram X. Kendi writes, anti-racism is a journey that “requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.” We recognize, too, that Park has not been experienced as a truly inclusive and anti-racist place by all members of the community. Therefore, we dedicate ourselves as a school to openly confront discord and examine the individual and collective assumptions and biases that arise in the classroom, the School, and our community. The work is never done. And the Plan, our road map, can and must keep evolving. We look forward to the ongoing conversation.

Head’s Lines: Silver Linings

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In these days leading up to Park’s winter break, I find myself reflecting upon the merry tropes of the winter holiday season. As Head of School, I feel charged with the responsibility to steward all that hope, all those large aspirations, and all of the good cheer forward into the New Year. 

And, at the same time, I’m conscious of all the loss being experienced during the COVID pandemic — the personal and the collective loss in our community. The loss of certainty, safety, confidence, and the more pointed forms of loss we endure as people and families. It’s important we acknowledge the loss.

As a school community, we have lost our Yule Festival — a beloved Park tradition that brings the entire community together in appreciation of the traditions and celebrations we share with one another and the opportunity to witness the shared work of faculty and students. We have lost the benefit of being together — fully — before going our separate ways.

And yet, there continue to be silver linings and real moments of joy that we witness each day and for which we can be thankful. As we head off to winter break, I want to celebrate those moments I’ve witnessed this year that bring me hope and appreciation for what makes Park Park.

I want to celebrate those moments I’ve witnessed this year that bring me hope and appreciation for what makes Park Park.

I’ve heard from Park’s Fourth Grade Empathy Task Force who proposed a slate of safe and celebratory projects and treats to allow our children the requisite moments to joy. 

I’ve witnessed 293 students from Kindergarten to Grade 4 singing “Happy Birthday” to a fellow student at carpool.

I’ve been told of families who, instead of the usual gifts, are journaling for their friends and family about the discoveries that make them grateful this year.

I’ve heard of collective family menorah lighting gatherings each night of Hanukkah on Zoom — something they never considered doing before. 

I’ve watched socially distanced second graders overwhelmed with playfulness dueling with pool noodles in the front circle.

I’ve spoken with parents who have, despite the restrictions of our current lives, realized that in some ways, all this is teaching their children to be more resourceful, more independent, more creative in finding ways to entertain themselves, and more ready to help out around the house. 

We can become so fixated on elements of tradition, and on rising to escalating expectations. How can we make this the best holiday season and winter break ever? We all have our agendas and desires. And there are elements of our collective experience that we can’t entirely control. But what if we strip off the layers of expectations and simply listen, learn, and appreciate?

Park’s motto is “Simplicity and Sincerity.” I think that’s a good message to take us forward in the current moment. Are we perfect? No. Are we working hard? Oh, my … yes. Are we hoping and working to maximize the potential of our community’s collective experience? Yes. Can we make it all alright, immediately? No. And with a measure of grace, we can decide to prioritize our collaboration in the ongoing effort of making Park the best place it can be.

Our glass is so very full — this community is finding its way forward in partnership, aspiration, and mutual support. 

I’m grateful for you all, and wish you the warmest of holiday seasons full of rest, connection, and peace.

Letters from the Editor

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The Park Parent Examines 2020

We’re so pleased to be publishing this, the first official issue of The Park Parent of this extraordinary 2020-21 school year.

Our editors and volunteer writers met back in October for our first editorial meeting. It was later in the term than we usually get started. Given the upheavals in all of our lives, responsibilities, and schedules, we adapted our plans and expectations. Our first official issue would be in December 2020, not Fall, and we would post some articles to the website separately, in advance of the first issue, as they became available. (We’ll likely continue to post pieces on a “running” basis throughout the year, compiling them with new content created specifically for regular seasonal issues like this one.)

As we talked, we decided that certainly we wanted to report on Park’s reopening during the pandemic, and all of the remarkable, creative effort that allowed it. We hoped to carry on running regular features such as “Check This Out” and “Park Creates.” And we brainstormed a variety of other possible articles to be written this year.

As content came into better focus, however, it was another theme that dominated our conversation. After a summer of national protest and reckoning around issues of racial justice, it felt not just appropriate, but urgent that articles related to Park’s DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives factor significantly in this Park Parent issue. Yet, as we simultaneously noted the clear lack of diversity in the faces populating our Zoom screen that morning, we recognized a major blind spot, not only in our own editorial process, but in the relationship of The Park Parent with our school community.

We are now taking active steps to redress this. Please see the accompanying letter in this issue, announcing our commencement of a collaboration with the co-chairs of the Parents’ Association DEI Committee.

For more than 50 years, parents have been supporting this fantastic resource as writers and editors. The Park Parent should serve all parents, families, faculty, staff, administration, and the wider Park community. It should inform – and even entertain. But as well, in this moment, we have an opportunity for transformation. How can The Park Parent serve our community more inclusively, more equitably? How can we re-imagine possibilities to make it an even richer, more valuable, more vibrant space for ideas and news at Park? We need your input to answer these questions. Keep your eyes out for a survey, coming soon, which we hope will help guide us in the months and years ahead.

In the meantime, we hope you’ll dig into this issue and find material of interest and meaning. And please, let us know what you think by emailing Feedback of any kind is always welcome, and helps us improve. 

Many thanks, and be well,

Cornelius Howland, Co-Editor
Kate LaPine, Director of Communications and Co-Editor


Equitable Representation and Anti-Racist Awareness in The Park Parent

Dear Park Parent Readers,

As noted in the accompanying letter from the editors, the first editorial meeting of this school year occasioned a renewed commitment to equitable representation and anti-racist awareness in the pages of The Park Parent. Key to that commitment was and is the recognition that Park must actively celebrate the backgrounds and perspectives of all members of the community, and that parents of color in particular have often not felt represented in this effort. How might The Park Parent more intentionally and actively engage a diversity of perspective in our editorial process?

And so, just over a week after that first editorial meeting, Park Parent editors and writers met with the co-chairs of the Parents’ Association DEI Committee – Vianka Perez Belyea, Sarah Holden Chokshi, Divya Kumar, and Celina Barrios-Millner – to begin what will be an ongoing conversation and collaboration.

We talked about the need for The Park Parent to maintain an anti-racist perspective overall. We reviewed content areas that are priorities for parents of color. We outlined possible future articles and initiatives to better link Park Parent content to anti-racist work happening elsewhere in the School. Moving forward, we agreed to keep lines of communication open, honest, and active.

This collaboration will surely evolve – and we hope, expand. As of now, many plans have yet to be solidified. And we realize that while the PA DEI Committee is one important representative body for parents of color, it’s of course just one of many other voices that can and should join us. Already, though, we feel that our cooperation has begun to meaningfully influence the way articles come together on these pages.

More to come,

Vianka Perez Belyea, PA DEI Committee Liaison to The Park Parent
Cornelius Howland, Co-Editor, The Park Parent
Suzy Akin, Director of Marketing and Strategic Communications
Kate LaPine, Director of Communications and Co-Editor, The Park Parent

DEI at Work: The Board of Trustees’ Commitment

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Park’s building reaches skyward, embodying our commitment and aspirations. “Waves in Time” by Richard Duca, 1972.

The Park School Board of Trustees is actively committed to advancing the School’s work in fostering an anti-racist educational community. Among the Board’s leading priorities this year is supporting and monitoring the DEI Implementation Plan through targeted board development work and also through membership on the DEIIP Steering Committee. In addition, working with the Head of School and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Board will draft and publish an equity and inclusion values statement clearly articulating the School’s commitment to anti-racism.

Another priority ahead involves analyzing student and school data in aggregate and disaggregated by race, culture, gender-identity, sexual orientation, family-structure, and socioeconomic status to track and measure student access and outcomes to ensure The Park School mission statement is accessible to all students. This data will inform our policies and practices going forward. 

As part of their efforts to support Scott Young in driving the Park mission forward, the members of the Board will prioritize the recruitment and inclusion of BIPOC Board members and will also engage in their own ongoing professional development. This year, the Board has committed to three professional development workshops focused on equity, inclusion, and relevant multicultural/diversity practices. As the Board’s June 19, 2020 letter to the community noted, such professional development work is important not only to model the Board’s commitment to fostering an anti-racist educational community through their actions, but also to develop their own cultural competencies as individuals and as a group. 

In the summer of 2020, the Board completed the first of three professional development sessions, which took the form of small group discussions centering on Ibram Kendi’s book, How to be an Anti-Racist. The small group discussions were facilitated by VISIONS, Inc., and centered on developing a common language of anti-racism as it applies to an educational setting. Specifically, the groups discussed that anti-racism work at Park requires more than just not being “racist.” Rather, anti-racist school leadership requires an active approach to deconstructing the behaviors, expectations, social patterns, and structures surrounding us that reinforce racism. 

In January, the trustees will participate in a second session, which will focus on the relationship between academic excellence and DEI/anti-racism. Specifically, trustees will examine how Park can advance its vision of academic excellence by centering anti-racism and culturally-sustaining pedagogy. John Palfrey, former head of school at Phillips Academy and currently president of the MacArthur Foundation, will join the session and share his own views on this essential topic, extending the conversation to the role of boards in supporting anti-racism in an educational setting.

A third session, to be scheduled in the spring, will build off these first two sessions on the Board’s role in supporting the School’s commitment to anti-racism.

As one member of the Board noted, “We are entering a new chapter of our DEI work. Park has long aspired to be a fully inclusive educational setting where all children can thrive, but we as a community have not had the tools and common language to do that. Scott is the right leader at the right time to advance this critical work. The Board looks forward to the work and the conversations ahead.”

Lessons For Anti-Racist Action

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The Parents’ Association DEI Committee invited Park’s School Counselor, Julie Mumford, LICSW, to attend their December open meeting and lead a presentation and discussion regarding race-based microaggressions. Park Parent editorial volunteers attended the meeting, and with the guidance and input of members of the PA DEI Committee, along with Julie, we hope to provide a recap of some valuable takeaways.

We do offer practical definitions and strategies from Julie’s presentation, but we have ultimately focused our attention even more intently on various critical lessons that emerged from the meeting – lessons about the interpersonal, intercultural dynamics of anti-racist work. As well, concerns arising from the actual planning and structure of DEI-related events like this meeting itself help to illustrate the disconnect that can remain between people of color and their white allies – despite the fact that these two populations share the goal of true equity and inclusion at Park and beyond. The more that disconnect can be thoughtfully recognized and bridged, the more effective anti-racist initiatives will be.

Key Points About Race-Based Microaggressions:

What are microaggressions?
“Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color. Perpetrators of microaggressions are often unaware that they engage in such communications when they interact with racial/ethnic minorities.” – Derald Wing Sue

What are the impacts of microaggressions on the BIPOC (Black, Indiginous, People of Color) community? On the white community?
The impact of microaggressions, as well as the resources needed to respond to them, are enormously different for these two populations. 

“The Weathering Effect,” which emerged as an important concept in the post-presentation discussion, describes the cumulative damage felt by people of color as an impact of repeated microaggressions. Research has shown that experiencing racism in this consistent and ongoing fashion causes serious lasting stress, not only emotional but physiological. Further, the sensitivity resulting from weathering can mean that even a “superficial” and/or unintended microaggression can easily have a severe impact. The impact of a word or an action can be far more relevant than its intent. 

Meanwhile, the impact felt by a white person who becomes aware that they have been unintentionally involved in a racial microaggression, or realizes that they did not notice its occurrence at the time, is likely a sense of shame and/or embarrassment. As well, witnessing a microaggression or other racist behavior – whether or not that white person intervenes – can bring genuine discomfort, anxiety, or even fear. However, uncomfortable though they may be, such impacts are incomparable to the kind of “weathering” harm experienced by a person of color who is the object of such a microaggression.

How can one meaningfully intervene when witnessing a microaggression, regardless of perceived intent?
Julie presented two broad conceptual areas of action appropriate when one notices a race-based microaggression taking place. In a reactive mode, one can “call out” that behavior, immediately letting someone know that their words or actions are unacceptable. In a reflective mode, during and/or after the fact, one can “call in,” by asking that person questions or otherwise engaging with them so as to promote self-reflection and growth in cultural competency. (For examples of how one might call someone out/in, please click here.)

Regardless of any intervention – or lack thereof – what is required of BIPOC community members in order to cope with the impacts of microaggressions? What is required of white community members?
Bearing in mind these very different realms of impact, Julie’s presentation noted the near-constant effort individuals of color must undertake to assure self-care and resiliency: assessing power dynamics in everyday interactions; assessing for physical safety in various contexts; setting boundaries; searching out support from peers; managing the overall cumulative effect of weathering in a variety of other ways. 

Among other resources, cultural affinity groups can be critically valuable in this respect, as they provide BIPOC participants with safe, dedicated spaces where they can discuss self-care strategies and responses to racism without needing to simultaneously moderate the learning process of white allies.

Meanwhile, white community members have never needed to devote energy to the ongoing coping skills, described above, required of people of color in response to everyday racism. It is incumbent upon white allies to shift that unjust imbalance — to begin using their own energy to adopt an active anti-racist outlook in their daily lives, and to do the committed, reflective work in cultural competency that is required.

Cultural affinity groups designed differently than those described above can provide white allies a less vulnerable space to engage in their own anti-racist work. In settings such as these, white allies can share experiences and learn from each other without fear –  fear of causing additional harm or burden to BIPOC participants who are seeking a different conversation, and of the shame that follows. While a certain amount of discomfort is natural – even appropriate – for white allies becoming involved in anti-racist work, there is no value in making potential participants in this vital work feel alienated or deterred because they do not feel they can enter the conversation safely.

Key Points from the Post-Presentation Discussion:

Participants shared their appreciation for the fact that valuable guidance on microaggressions had been offered to the group, but voiced their concern with the manner in which the meeting itself had been envisioned and managed. Several parents of color noted that the presentation, and as a follow-on, the meeting as a whole, was essentially “white-centered,” and therefore inherently problematic given its context.

Others also noted their frustration at being invited to share examples of various microaggressions they had experienced, given how tiresome and redundant it can feel to revisit these all-too-common painful moments, especially in a setting that seemed designed largely for the benefit of white participants’ cultural competency. Still, several participants shared such stories. A dominant theme was misidentification; students of color and their parents are mistaken quite regularly for peers of the same race. This happens too frequently at Park as well as in the world at large. Experiencing this can make members of our BIPOC community feel that they are not seen and known as individuals. It is a fundamental anti-racist responsibility for white parents and their children to ensure that they correctly identify members of our BIPOC community.

Anti-racist work is straightforward in its goals and guiding principles, but complex, layered, and nuanced in its execution. Along with clear, unequivocal action in the face of injustices – be they large or small, intentional or unintentional – a more holistic sensitivity and cultural awareness is vital, along with thoughtful planning, communication, and a capacity for ‘both/and’ thinking:

  • White allies must avoid burdening the BIPOC community with the responsibility of educating the white community about the impact of racism. And, white allies can actively invite and facilitate people of color, on their own terms, to share their experiences, priorities, and guidance.
  • As a corollary: It is essential for white allies to hear and learn from the experiences of BIPOC members of our community. And it cannot be seen as somehow obligatory for some members of our community to relive their past negative experiences for the sake of others’ anti-racist understanding.
  • An institution like Park can and should facilitate separate, safe spaces for differing purposes: conversations between BIPOC peers engaged in anti-racist discussion appropriate to their context and experience, and conversations between white peers engaged in anti-racist discussion appropriate to their context and experience. And, healthy, collaborative anti-racist work can and should also be accomplished in safe spaces, also facilitated by the institution, where people of color and white allies come together. (Park will begin its own programming of varied affinity spaces in January 2021.)

And so, the December 8th PA DEI Meeting and Presentation itself was both problematic and productive. It disappointed participants who had expected a different balance of content and interaction. It revealed blind spots and assumptions that cause frustration and pain. It exemplified the kinds of missteps and miscommunications that can emerge as an institution like Park tries to build a better structure of anti-racist resources. And, it was planned and facilitated in good faith by a committed parent volunteer body charged with a challenging anti-racist mandate. Through Julie’s thoughtful presentation, it offered valuable and practical concepts and skills to white allies. The ensuing discussion offered its own lessons – to those in attendance and hopefully, through this article, to the wider Park community. Overall, lessons drawn from the experience of the meeting provide helpful guidance as Park’s anti-racist initiatives unfold moving forward.

Progress towards true equity and inclusion will be imperfect. But the alternative – of delaying or not engaging in this work – is simply not acceptable. Parents at Park, bringing differing approaches based on their own lived experiences, and committing, urgently and openly, to honest, respectful participation, have the opportunity to play a huge role in transforming our school into a more deeply anti-racist institution. 

Resources shared by community members during the meeting. For more resources and information, please see the comprehensive DEI Resources page on Park’s website.

New Kid by Jerry Craft
A nuanced graphic novel about identity and belonging. 

How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
An essential text prescribing transformative changes in outlook and policy. From the book: “…there is no such thing as a “not-racist” — our actions are either racist or anti-racist. If we are serious about justice, if we are serious about peace, we don’t get to spend our time being “neutral” white people — because there is no neutral.”

New York Times “1619 Project”
Nikole Hannah-Jones developed this ongoing project for The New York Times Magazine which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of [the United States’] national narrative.”

Brené Brown’s “Unlocking Us” Podcasts
Featuring the intersection of shame and accountability in white people as they work towards anti-racism, and her author interviews with Austin Channing Brown and Ibram X. Kendi.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity In a World Made For Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
Austin Channing Brown focuses on racial justice in America with her book I’m Still Here: and video web series The Next Question

“This Racism Is Killing Me Inside”
An episode on the radio program “Code Switch” about the Weathering Effect.
A phone app dedicated to being a growing resource for learning about anti-racism and supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement

7 Steps White Allies Can Take To Become More Involved:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the strategies of ‘calling out’ and ‘calling in’ and choosing to directly address racial microaggressions.
  2. Listen to and learn from members of our BIPOC community when they choose to share their own experiences.
  3. Join an affinity group, Parent SEED, or other ongoing DEI discussion group at Park.
  4. Attend Parents’ Association DEI events and other forums facilitated by Park.
  5. Improve cultural competency and understanding of the BIPOC experience using media resources such as those listed above.
  6. Begin conversations with adult friends and family around anti-racist priorities.
  7. Engage in conversations with your children about their peers.  Books can be helpful, for example: A Kids Book about Racism by Jelani Memory

The Year of No Buffets (or Food Service at Park During COVID)

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This has not been a good year for buffets. And eating family-style in a large dining room is out of the question. But Park’s Dining Services team has rallied with the support of the Park faculty and staff and managed to adapt. Chef Anthony Marco was gracious enough to answer my many questions about how they’ve continued to serve healthy, tasty food, safely.

Challenges posed by COVID-19 run the gamut, from gathering and organizing menu choices, to delivering the meals throughout the school, to managing extra waste material.

The menu form sent out every Friday is the initial key step in providing students with meals that meet their tastes and needs. It allows Dining Services to reduce food waste and ensure menu availability by placing informed orders with food purveyors. It’s also the way that Chef Anthony ensures that each child with an allergy or dietary restriction gets a suitable meal.

Chef Anthony notes that about three to five percent of the student body has an allergy or dietary restriction. For that group of students (and the people who love them) there’s a lot of peace of mind created by the meticulously methodical system Park’s team uses to label and individually modify meals. He says, “Each day I go over the orders and identify any allergy concerns or restrictions; this information is relayed to the production team, such as gluten free pasta or dairy free pizza. We lay out all of the boxes a day ahead, attach the labels and separate out the containers that have allergies or restrictions before any food goes near them. Each grade does have a master print out and it is cross referenced before the finished lunch makes it to the cart for delivery.”

Matt Kessler, Park’s co-director of secondary school counseling, used his expertise in an unexpected way to assist in overcoming the challenge of the meal ordering. Without Matt’s help, Chef Anthony says he’d be “crying under a desk somewhere.” It might seem logical that a faculty member with “counseling” in their description has prevented tears, but in this case it’s not because he’s helping our children choose their next school. Instead, he’s helping them choose their lunches. Matt used his Google Forms skills to create the form that accurately ensures that everyone gets a lunch, even those who forget to order.

Menu choices in hand, Chef Anthony and the Dining Services team arrive each day at 6 a.m. in order to have time to prepare each gourmet, individually packaged meal for our children and the faculty and staff at Park. 

Despite many pandemic-related hurdles, some things have made life easier for the team. Flik, the food service company Park uses, has enough buying power to coordinate with suppliers and avoid shortages (though paper products and disposables can be hit or miss). On the staffing front, Park is lucky enough to have two pairs of staff – a mother and son, and a married couple – who as members of single households can work closely together in the kitchen while remaining within COVID-19 safety protocols. 

In some cases Park has brought in outside help as well; while meeting food safety guidelines to prevent food-borne illnesses or virus transmission has always been a priority, this year Park is not only audited by the Brookline Health Department but also has hired a third-party auditor to oversee COVID-19-specific protocols.

Once the students’ meals are safely prepared and packaged by the kitchen team, other Park staff and faculty step up to handle the huge logistical challenge of meal delivery, distributing meals to classrooms from the tiered carts that food services wheels to 15 different locations on the school campus – including Faulkner House! 

After students’ bellies are full, there remains the final challenge of waste disposal. While the increase in single-use disposables during this pandemic has created waste-management problems in many communities, at Park the Dining Services team has managed to bypass the landfill by choosing compostable containers that are collected by the facilities team and then composted by Bootstrap Composting in Jamaica Plain.

Asked what he most misses being able to serve, given the new constraints of what can easily be turned into a packaged lunch, Chef Anthony explains that the hardest part about the changes resulting from the pandemic isn’t what or how they’re cooking. It’s not getting to see all the students.

He misses seeing kids walk through the Dining Room in the morning and watching their faces light up when they realize it’s Breakfast Day. “I know the whole team really misses the face time with students and getting to know who loves broccoli or who wants pizza with only cheese and no sauce,” he shares.

My kids aren’t the ones who love broccoli, but they do love the baby green salad with barley, fall vegetables, and dijon vinaigrette. As vegan kids who never had school lunch until they arrived at Park, their faces lit up when I told them Chef Anthony said they’d make them vegan cheese pizza so they wouldn’t be left out on pizza day. Chef Anthony and his team didn’t get to see those smiles this year.

Still, together with many other Park staff and faculty, Dining Services has found a way to safely prepare and deliver meals during this difficult time. They’ve overcome logistical challenges, and are working harder than before – without witnessing how much their food is appreciated. If your child loved the edamame dumplings or the bahn mi sandwich, maybe as parents and caregivers we can adapt and do some extra work delivering our kids’ appreciation, just like Park delivers their lunches. Chef Anthony’s e-mail is

Park Creates – Fall/Winter 2020

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Parents often see work made by our own children and their classmates, but without regularly touring all of Park’s hallways and classrooms, we are bound to miss so much else.

This showcase of student art, visual projects, and writing complements the annual curated Park Anthology. “Park Creates” seeks to share an ongoing sampling of the kind of vivid creativity that is happening all the time at Park. No particular rhyme or reason guides the projects we select, other than an effort to represent all grade levels and a variety of media over time.

A note for this issue: We typically feature the work of an entire Lower Division and Upper Division section, but we’ve had to adapt to challenges posed by the pandemic. Thanks to Art Department Head Nancy Popper for photographing this great work by Upper Division students!

Grade 7: Papier-mâché Figures

This fall, students in Grade 7 worked entirely remotely over Zoom to create these figure sculptures. Beginning with gesture drawing exercises, they built proportional wire armatures in poses that conveyed motion. Wadded newspaper filled out body shapes and outer layers of papier-mâché added strength; finally, each student collaged clothing and features to create an identity for their character. Working remotely required an extra level of independence and mastery of materials – including papier-mâché paste mixing and clean-up.

Grade 8: Graphite Drawings on Paper

Students in Grade 8 spent the fall term exploring the use of light and shadow to create depth in a 2D image. After initial exercises in creating value scales and shaded forms, students chose a photographed portrait and re-created one half of the drawing.

Check This Out!

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Beginning in this issue of The Park Parent, “Check This Out” will feature not only items related to childhood development and education, but as well a wider variety of content from the realms of community engagement, art, and culture. As always, please submit your recommendations anytime to:

For Kids (mainly!)

Something Happened In Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marietta Collins, Marianne Celano, and Ann Hazard
The Park PA Community Speakers Series Committee encountered this book while planning upcoming events (keep an eye out for event details in future Friday Notes). Written by psychologists and geared toward helping younger children process racial violence, the book includes resources for parents with appropriate strategies for talking to children ages 4-8. – The Park Speakers Series Committee

“Kidnuz” Podcast
A great, quick, daily podcast with positive news snippets geared towards kids. It is about 10 minutes long, with a fun quiz about the featured news stories. We listen to it on the way to school every morning, I love the happy stories they tell, as the news is so rarely positive these days.  – Leigh Kempinski

How To Build a Guitar
Here is a wonderful photo essay, with accompanying text, from the November 28, 2020 issue of The New York Times Magazine. If we can’t visit a remarkable place like this in person right now, at least we can do it through a well-told visual story. (If you do not have a subscription to the Times, you should still be able to enjoy this; you get five free articles before you’re required to pay up!)  – Cornelius Howland

For Parents (mainly!)

Born To Be
Find time for this remarkably thoughtful, moving, important documentary film that follows the work of Dr. Jess Ting (he/him) at the groundbreaking Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in New York City. Streaming the film through the Coolidge Corner Theatre website costs $12. A portion of that price helps support the Coolidge. – Cornelius Howland

“LeVar Burton Reads” Podcast
In every episode, actor, director, and educator LeVar Burton picks a short piece of fiction and reads it out loud. His commentary about each piece is thought-provoking and broadens my appreciation of the work, and his story selections often include BIPOC and LGBTQ authors and themes.  – Kelly Caiazzo

“Origin Stories”
In this 50-minute segment of the radio show “Open Source,” Christopher Lydon, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Philip Deloria, and Peter Linebaugh explore differing narratives about how and when America “began.” Who defined the history we teach ourselves and our children? How do we meaningfully move beyond damaging historical myths?  – Cornelius Howland

Breakthrough Brookline
A helpful resource offering listings of upcoming free online lectures, panel discussions, workshops, and other opportunities to engage with pressing issues of racial and social justice.  – Sarah Holden Chokshi

Off The Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam

After tracking and analyzing exactly how she spent her time for two full years, author Laura Vanderkam compiled her most valuable lessons from the experience into a book that will helps readers reclaim wasted time, reduce stress, and be mindful of all the best moments. Not sure you have time to read? The audiobook is narrated by the author and also excellent. For true brevity, Laura Vanderkam’s podcast “Before Breakfast” gives a nugget of time-management or productivity advice in about five minutes. Keep an eye out for an invitation to a virtual Park Speaker Series event featuring Laura Vanderkam in Friday Notes!  – The Park Speakers Series Committee

 “How Shakespeare Became An American Hero”
A fascinating discussion of how Shakespeare’s work has been nationally “adopted” by the U.S. (even more so than in Great Britain, in many ways) and has resonated during significant moments and periods in U.S. history.  – Cornelius Howland

Thriving in the Lower Division — Five Weeks of Progress at Park

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    Budding scientists taking careful notes.
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    Kindergarten science often takes place in the Learning Garden.
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    Kindergarten science students at work.
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    Fourth graders applied their knowledge of arrays, perimeter, and area to create a zoo on graph paper given challenging constraints.
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Picnic lunches are fun!

A particular joy of my role as Lower Division Head at The Park School is the opportunity to walk the hallways and grounds, witnessing all the learning as it happens every day. It’s a joy that I usually get to share with colleagues and with the many parents who move freely around the hallways, witnessing the day to day magic. This year, amidst COVID-19, our efforts to protect the integrity of our clusters – contained groupings of students and teachers who work together and avoid crossing into other clusters – mean there is much less opportunity for colleagues and parents to visit, and yet the joy that constitutes the Park experience is still palpable.

Five weeks into the new academic year, our students continue to amaze me on so many levels. They have demonstrated flexibility, resiliency, and adaptability in the past weeks that have surpassed what I thought was possible. They remind me on a daily basis that being outdoors is good for all of us, that eating a picnic lunch is fun, and that there are opportunities to collaborate even when sitting at a desk, socially distanced from classmates. 

Park students have returned to school to learn – and learning and growing is what they are doing! As I walk the grounds and peer into classrooms, I see students who are curious, observant, and reflective. I also see children who in a short time have built new friendships and feel part of a community. 


Early Childhood Classrooms: A Foundation for Discovery

In PreK, learning happens through play, inside…
…and outside on the playground!

If you could visit PreKindergarten, you would immediately be struck by the industriousness of the students. They are playing in the woods, they are on the swings, or the climbing structure. You can hear them making new discoveries, negotiating how to share a stick or taking turns on the swings. Learning is happening through the play that they are engaged in.

Joining a morning meeting you would quickly be impressed with the level of questioning and the observations made by PreK students after reading a book that prompts them to answer the question, “How are we alike and how are we different?” This question leads to collecting data about characteristics that are shared amongst the students. Teachers seamlessly weave in math, science, and literacy teaching into a single lesson and the children are transfixed. 

Whether outside or indoors, our Kindergarteners are sorting collections and asking what is similar about how the shapes are sorted, what are the attributes that they have in common. In science, students are looking at weather and observing how it feels, how it looks, and then taking those observations and creating storm stories during their writing workshop. Children incorporate all that they have taken in and learn how to communicate their discoveries to those around them. Kindergarten students are builders and architects who enjoy time outdoors creating and designing with classmates. 

Kindergarten science often takes place in the Learning Garden.
Budding scientists taking careful notes.
Kindergarten science students at work.









Grades 1 & 2: Applying Foundational Skills

“Just right books” ensure students are reading and understanding.
Diving into the perfect book!

By Grade 1, students are learning the important skill of choosing just the right books to ensure they are reading and understanding what they have read, working on math problem-solving and interpreting what the story problem is asking them to add or subtract. They are refining their storytelling skills and applying them to journal writing and small moment stories. All that noticing, all those details, all that curious gathering – first graders channel all of it into the projects they engage in their classrooms.

In Grade 2 social studies, a guiding question for the year is: “How are second graders around the world similar to and different from me?”

By the time students get to Grade 2, the foundational skills acquired through discovery and play become second nature, ready tools for them to apply to increasingly complex academic challenges. Their interdisciplinary focus on global studies launched in these early weeks of school as children delved into the notion of “identity.” Beginning with a close understanding of their own identity, they then consider the identity of their peers, and broaden that to the question of “How are second graders around the world similar to and different from me?,” applying the empathy born of connecting with the individual humanity of people both near and far. In this work, they realize the many shared aspects of people that bring us together, even across differences of language and culture and across borders.


Grades 3 & 4: Advancing with Confidence

Third graders build further on that deep understanding of culture and history with a yearlong study of Native Americans. This fall, the students delved deeply into the meaning of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which challenged them to think about the culture and history of the original occupants of the land we live on now. In art, they are weaving colorful baskets, and in science, they are using a variety of different apps to apply their observational skills in new ways. They are also strengthening their conceptual understanding of multiplication as they build arrays, overlapping two arrays to find a related product (e.g. 8×5 and 8×6). They practice skip counting and write multiplication word problems. The observational skills they practice are put to the test as they work to find patterns and make conjectures, including using a “hundreds chart” to highlight multiples of related numbers and finding consecutive number sums. 

Fourth graders apply their knowledge of arrays, perimeter, and area to create a zoo on graph paper given challenging constraints.

Math is a center of creative learning in Grade 4, which begins with a focus on Inspirational Math, a Jo Boaler program designed to challenge and inspire elementary aged students with complex tasks. The Investigations program includes using arrays to find all factors of a number, which numbers are square, prime and composite and how to use an array to depict that number. The students applied their knowledge of arrays, perimeter, and area to create a zoo on graph paper given challenging constraints, and a dog run with a given cost per foot of fencing. This creative problem solving continues as they begin learning to play musical instruments, and finds vibrant expression in their art classes, where they build on observations to create their own mythical creatures. Another important lesson in observation came as part of their Library studies, where they learned to “read” the feelings expressed by other people’s eyes even when the rest of their faces are obscured by masks (see four examples below). This exercise serves as a great foundation for the Empathy Task Force which is getting underway for its third year. Twelve self-nominated fourth graders will work together to propose ideas to build community with younger Park students even as we are challenged to remain contained in our clusters.

Surpassing Expectations

As we contemplated the return to campus amidst health and safety-related restrictions, we thought our school community would necessarily feel diminished. The opposite is proving true. Our students are naturally wired to find and build community despite obstacles. Restricted as they necessarily are to working within their cluster, they are bonding more tightly than ever. They are building friendships with peers they might not have sought out before. Elements of programming we thought would be restrictive have instead produced deeper connections than we’ve seen before. Even on a recent rainy day when all the children were contained inside, sitting six feet apart in the hallways to eat their lunch, their playful and creative spirit was undimmed.

On-Campus Learning has, certainly, provided the benefits we expected. Students are thriving in this opportunity to come together with classmates and teachers after long months of separation. We believe children learn best in and through relationships with others, and that this is best supported by joining as a community, and these opening weeks of school have underscored the value of this belief. Our teachers have worked so hard to be there for their students and our parents have risen to every challenge, making for a great partnership. 

VIDEO: Optimism in action. On a recent rainy day, first graders enjoyed the “zen” of having snack under their tent. (Click here to watch)

Our surprise, however, comes from witnessing just how adaptable, how flexible and resilient our students are, and how consistently they find joy and opportunity in circumstances that might otherwise feel limiting. It turns out, vitality is a life force. Park students have shown us that – a lesson in optimism and possibility that surpasses our expectations. For this, we are grateful.


This article was originally published on October 16, 2020.

Ripple Effects: Keeping Park Running Day to Day

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Scott Young recently noted that when we opened in September, we were working hard to sustain on-campus learning as long as possible, but we truly were not counting on still being on campus when Halloween came around, let alone considering the potential impact of family holiday plans at Thanksgiving and Winter Break on campus health and safety. 

And yet, here we are, moving into the holiday season, cautiously optimistic that we will continue to teach and learn on campus. We may, surely, have to pivot back and forth to remote learning at times, either on a cluster-basis or as a full campus, but we believe we have built and sustained a structure that can support our ongoing campus presence.

Families may be aware of many of the structures and systems in place that have made all this possible. We redesigned the entire carpool system. We established dedicated grade-specific entrances and hallways, clearly marked with signage. Cluster-based classes, lunch, and recess keep students gathered safely within their groups. Teachers whose role crosses grade- and cluster-groupings Zoom into classrooms to protect the integrity of our clusters. Air filters were replaced and upgraded throughout the HVAC system. Park’s miraculous Food Service team even manages to prepare between 460 and 500 individually packaged lunches that follow dietary needs and food preferences. That’s a lot of boxes of food!

But did you know about these less visible acts that make the campus day to day possible?

  • The COVID Task Force meets every single day school is in session to review that day’s data, both on campus and in the surrounding community. The Task Force is also on point for the myriad questions surfacing throughout the community when families or employees wonder if circumstances they encounter present a risk to the Park community.
  • The Facilities Team deep cleans and sanitizes all classrooms nightly as well as the stairwells every morning after students arrive. High touch surfaces are cleaned multiple times per day. They check and refill all the touchless hand sanitizer and soap dispensers. 
  • Facilities put together 150 cleaning and disinfection kits for classrooms, Zoom rooms, and offices. Faculty wipe down desks twice a day.
  • Eight electrostatic spray guns are used twice per week to disinfect surfaces — the same tool used by organizations like United Airlines. Proven more effective than disinfectant wipes or power-washing, they attach a positive charge to the disinfectant spray so that it attaches to the negatively charged germs in our spaces. (Turns out, who knew….most everything around us has a negative charge.)
  • The Facilities Team also relocated six classrooms and 11 offices, and moved six Pod-fulls of furniture to off campus storage to make way for COVID-safe, socially-distanced classroom set ups. The team also helps with carpool every morning and afternoon, picks up trash from every outdoor picnic lunch location, and mows under the tents when they’re not in use. All this, on top of the usual routines of campus maintenance cleaning, trash disposal, landscaping…not to mention snow removal.
  • Administrators and staff take on Lower Division lunch duty coverage daily to allow classroom teachers to have a break during recess and lunch. In a normal year, teachers are on duty during this period on a rotating schedule, but in a normal year, those teachers also have regular breaks during the academic day when specialists or club leaders take over their classrooms. This year, teachers are fully “on” all day with their clusters, and these additional volunteers at lunchtime provide an essential break.
  • When a given cluster or supercluster is sent to remote learning, along with their teachers, members of administration and staff pick up extra shifts to provide support and coverage for those now off campus.
  • The Physical Education Department, because its members teach outdoors and are therefore able to work across clusters, also pick up extra duties when teachers are not able to be on campus.
  • Mina Roustaei (Receptionist) and Shakera Bramwell (Assistant to the Division Heads) created a virtual “Lost & Found” catalog, now shared online to support students and families find lost belongings now that parents can’t come into the building to track things down itself.  An awesome effort by staff to fill an unexpected, COVID-driven need, which a parent described as “Warmth in every sense of the word.”
  • Tent classrooms become a wilderness adventure when it rains or snows–bundle up!
  • Lower Division Head Kimberly Formisano’s office is now used by second graders meeting with tutors or specialists on Zoom. She keeps her professional life in a backpack and travels around the building looking for empty rooms in which to work.
  • Members of the Communications Office support the Lower Division carpool effort, even donning the bright yellow vest to serve as crossing guard in the afternoon or holding umbrellas over small people who didn’t come prepared with rain gear.
  • Parents are serving as Park Ambassadors, reaching out to prospective families who don’t have the usual opportunity to come to campus, tour the halls, and feel the spirit of Park in person.
  • Bus drivers have become health attestation experts, confirming that every bus-riding student is safe to come to school on a daily basis.
  • Park’s annual “picture day” became an elaborate engineering feat, scheduling every student and employee for a picture. “Picture Day” became two picture days in recognition that only half of Grade 6-8 students are on campus on a given day. And then “retake day” became two retake days, working around the Grade 6-8 schedule as well as the intersection of clusters moved to remote learning in October.

All considered, the phrase “it takes a village” just begins to touch on the elaborate, collaborative effort that happens daily at Park — and yet everyone somehow keeps smiling. People keep saying “yes” when asked to help. Many are tired, and sometimes the weekend can’t come soon enough, but while we’re here, making THIS work is important.

The myth of Sisyphus describes a man fated to push a heavy stone up a hill for eternity, only to have it roll down the other side when he reached the top. Admittedly, these days do sometimes feel like we’re pushing a rock up a hill, again and again. But in French philosopher Albert Camus’s version of the myth, Sisyphus is smiling. Why? 

Perhaps it’s because the work itself — the mission itself — and the challenge inherent to it matters–even if it’s hard, even if it’s hard to see if we’re getting anywhere…even if our glasses fog over. The work we do together matters, however we manage to get it done, with however many hands and spirits. 

And so, yes, we smile. Your children make us smile. Bundling out of the car in the morning in floppy rubber boots and carrying two backpacks while they wave and shout “I love you” back at the car window. We smile, even in the rain. 

Sure, sometimes it’s cold or wet and the smile is harder than at other times. But reflecting back on the work done, we do still smile. We get up and we come to school — and we look forward.

Photo by Keith Jonson on Unsplash

Head’s Lines: Giving Thanks for Park

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As we approach this most unusual of Thanksgiving holidays, it’s tempting to dwell on the things we are missing. Within our day-to-day on campus, we are missing the accustomed easy interaction with each other, face-to-face. Coffee in the Park lobby. Parents in the hallways. Boisterous children in the Dining Room. And while I do miss all that, I can’t shake the feeling that, more than anything else, I am grateful.

In my first Grandparents’ and Special Friends’ address in 2018, I spoke about the importance of gratitude when I shared that “gratitude differs from thanks in that it is an appreciation for what one has rather than what one has received. Gratitude is a deeper appreciation. One is thankful for a well-prepared meal, but we are grateful for the love, companionship, acceptance, and dedication of our family and friends who join us in celebration.”

As we prepare for this Thanksgiving Break, I am thankful for the incredible joy Park students bring to our campus. I am grateful for the resilience, patience, creativity, and flexibility our teachers bring to their work every day. I am humbled by the extra efforts brought by members of the administration and staff who say yes to tasks they never had to juggle before — at all hours of the day. And, I am overwhelmed by the support of Park families during this extraordinarily challenging year.

Thanksgiving this year has particular resonance to me, coming at the end of a long stretch in which so many at Park have done the heavy lifting of designing solutions to problems we never had to think about before. We have this moment to pause, to rest, and to be grateful for all that has carried us this far. Thank you — to every member of the Park community who are giving so much of themselves to ensure that Park is Park. It’s the effort and heartfelt dedication of so many good people that makes Park what it is.

I’m grateful for our families who have adhered to our expectations in support of health and safety, who prioritize keeping Park safe with the choices they make. I take particular joy in the routine of morning and afternoon carpool, where so many words of thanks are exchanged as children of all ages set off to start and complete their days. I appreciate our PA Community Service team’s effort to orchestrate the annual pumpkin bread drive despite logistical challenges surrounding distribution. I am thankful for all the ways members of our community, large and small, are looking out for each other, helping each other along.

While we’d all so much rather not have to deal with the current challenges, I find myself revisiting again and again all these sources of gratitude, which in a normal year we might not have had such reason to appreciate. Gratitude, too, is healing. Studies actually show that experiencing gratitude makes people healthier, and happier. It’s a habit I hope I can sustain.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Please join me in embracing gratitude in 2020 for all we are able to accomplish together. Be safe, be kind, and be grateful.

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