Program Experiences Described
Several people describe how their programs address issues that affect ESL student achievement. Discussion items include: structures and/or policies to facilitate student transition; need for VESL programs; lack of funding and its consequences; charging fees; managed enrollment; intensity of instruction; persistence; transitions.
We have been funded for an ESL Transition to College program over the next three years by a private foundation. There is a need in CT to streamline services and to connect what our adult ed public school based programs do with community colleges. We need to avoid duplication of services and move forward with best practices. Our current program (Regional Service Center entity) is more intensive in services 15-20 hours a week with internships and close support services - this is a major factor in bridging the route to higher ed and referrals to the CC ESL program. If students complete our program they usually skip a level at the CC and avoid using some federal assistance for non-credit courses, which is itself a controversial issue. The school districts have free programs. PD is extensively provided in CT through a centralized service. A next step here is further developing the linkages with the private sector - more VESL on site - we have an increasing number of these programs. Some funding is being provided through the Labor Dept. incumbent worker funds and some by the companies. This is a real growth area for services.
Let me start with the Andy's contribution, because transitions are a special interest of mine. I was delighted to learn of this transition program, and it seems to be doing all the right things. Andy, I think you could help all of us if you could tell us MORE. For example, how many students are enrolled in the program each year (or semester), is it limited in geographic area (and if so what area), do you have waiting lists or can you serve everyone who applies, how many weeks (terms) does the program run, at what level do students enter it (or what criteria are used to select them), can you characterize the curriculum (e.g., how does it differ from standard life skills or credit ESL, if at all), what are the "internships" (a fascinating idea!) and support services, what percentage of students who enroll make transitions to colleges, do you know how successful they are in college? Finally, how much does it cost on a per-student basis? The cost issue is often a barrier to establishing and maintaining good transition programs. In fact, could you support the program without private foundation funding? Is that a barrier to expanding it? Are there other barriers to expanding it?
I know that's asking a lot, but really good transition programs are hard to find, and I think you would make a major contribution by telling everyone more about yours.
Jodi and I agree that there is a great need for more VESL programs. A problem seems to be that good ones are expensive to develop and maintain. I've seen too many good VESL programs that were created with grant funding die because they couldn't be sustained by state funding, tuition, and other "usual" means. Another problem seems to be the need to target VESL programs on areas of real labor market need in a given area. Finally, at least some VESL programs prepare students only for entry level jobs (such as CNA) that pay very low wages. Often students who complete these programs don't remain in the vocation very long, or if they do they become members of the "working poor" - which most of them were to begin with. It seems that VESL programs that contain a "career ladder" component have better results, both short term and long term, for both the students and the workforce. I'm wondering whether these observations correspond to the experiences of people viewing this discussion, and if they do, what have any of you been able to do to meet these problems/challenges? In fact, I'm wondering how many of you have VESL programs, and in what fields.
I have directed a downtown Adult Learning Center for our local community college for 14 years. The #1 issue that inhibits the success of all of our learners - ESL, ABE, or GED is funding and infrastructure.
Funding puts severe limits on the pay that is available for instructors, the hours that classes can be offered, and the support services that will be available to the learners.
The reality of funding limitations on our program result in
- starting pay of $13.25 an hour, top pay of $15.25/hr - which is not competitive with K-12 substitute teachers, let alone highly qualified, instructors with any significant ESL and/or adult education training. Our instructors work hard and are committed to the learning of their students, but with an extremely limited well of knowledge training to draw upon.
- 4-10 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year also severely limits the pool of interested instructors, as well as inhibiting the learning opportunities of the students.
Similar to others who have posted - we find that the higher the literacy/education of the ESL student upon enrollment, the more likely they are to progress and transition to additional education/training - which isn't all that different from the U.S. born ABE students.
We do have staff who do assist our learners transition to our short-term vocational & credit programs as one of several responsibilities. The majority of ESL learners who have transitioned have done so via short-term vocational programming - CNA, welding, etc. Those who transitioned into a credit program were again those who were well educated in their home country.
Bottom line is that adult literacy desperately needs a serious commitment of funding, support and infrastructure from the federal, state and local levels if meaningful learning is going to take place. The system does very well considering the limitations placed upon it. Professional development opportunities are meaningless if the system doesn't support professionals. There isn't an NRS accountability measure that can create Cadillac-level students with the current Yugo budgets.
Way to go Jim!!!!
The question is what to do about it. At CAAL we are gearing up to lobby Congress and states for more funding specifically targeted at ESL. There are at least two problems in doing this. 1) The lack of a strong push from the field for changes in policy that will increase ESL-specific funding - as opposed to just asking for "more" for adult education generally. The existing professional organizations do the best they can, but I think they need more grass roots support to create policy change. Too many ESL people seem to be suffering in silence. 2) There seems to be no clear idea of how much funding would be enough. Simply asking for "more" is less convincing than coming up with a number and justifying it. Can any of you provide some inputs into this? How much do you spend per student (or per FTE) in non-credit ESL each year? How much would you have to spend to increase key outcomes (retention, learning gains, and transitions) to the levels possible by "the state of the art" -- to do the best job you are capable of doing? And what would be the components of that additional spending? These are not hypothetical questions. We run into them whenever we advocate for "more" for ESL. But it's hard to justify any particular numbers. In fact, there is no reliable data I know of about how much per student (or FTE) is now being spent, on average. The numbers that float around indicate that program expenditures vary from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand per student (or FTE) per year, and there isn't much information that correlates spending levels with program outcomes. PLEASE, if any of you can tell us your present spending levels and what you think you need (and why), post it here. You will help us and your colleagues A LOT!
Beyond getting more total funding, the question is whether programs can use the funding they have to get better results. Some programs effectively do this by limiting the number of students they serve - spreading the existing funds over fewer students, so that at least those served get the full benefit of a first rate program with first rate teachers. Sometimes there are policy barriers to this; sometimes not. Does this seem reasonable alternative to any of you?
Another approach is to go hunting for "hidden subsidies." I believe that one advantage colleges have over other providers is that they have "spare cash" or its equivalent available for programs that they chose to subsidize. Sometimes this can entail outright distributions from "the general fund" that augment state allocations. Sometimes it entails ramping up the level of "in kind" services - such as guidance/counseling, IT support, physical plant, etc. A few colleges we've seen have established "scholarships" for ESL students who make transitions (sometimes in the form of partial tuition waivers. Another tactic is to "classify" non-credit ESL as one of the higher-reimbursement non-credit programs at the college - where there are differentials in non-credit reimbursement (as here are, for example in Illinois). Or classifying the upper levels of what would normally be non-credit as "credit ESL." Or making part-time non-credit teachers eligible for more of the benefits (e.g. healthcare) or training opportunities available to full time faculty (such as time and funds for continuing education/professional development). Have any of you made use of any of these tactics? Is there barriers to your doing so?
Finally, a few colleges charge for non-credit ESL service. They aren't allowed to charge for programs that receive federal funds, but they can arguably charge for programs solely supported by state funds, and this distinction can be made if the state allows. While charging for non-credit ESL may seem heresy, and it isn't possible for all students to pay very much, we have been surprised by how many students are willing to pay how much, rather than sit on waiting lists. Is this an approach in policy or practice that should be expanded?
Hi, everyone. It has been interesting reading the postings today and want to respond to some of them now.
Jackie asked what we meant by "intensity of instruction" and Marie provided a definition from an excellent publication from the Center for Applied Linguistics which analyzes the effects of instructional hours and intensity of instruction on NRS level gains in listening and speaking. (See Transcript: "What is Meant by Intensity of Instruction")
In our study, we define "intensity of instruction" as the number of hours per week and differentiate it from "duration" which is the total number of hours for the program. We think both intensity and duration are important. It is important to have enough hours per week of instruction, but also important that there be enough weeks. Programs in the 5 community colleges we studied varied from 3 to 20 hours per week of instruction, with 10 hours/week considered "semi-intensive" and 20 hours/week as "intensive" instruction.
As Jim so eloquently put it, there are some basic reasons why programs might not offer as many hours of instruction per week as they want to, with funding being at the root of many of the reasons.
Forrest and I would be interested in knowing how many hours per week your various programs meet (and for how many weeks) and how you determined that schedule. Have you tried more intense programs for shorter periods of time? What has been the impact on attendance?
Have any of you provided adult ESL/ESOL programs that charge a fee? We were surprised to learn of such a program at Bunker Hill Community College. They provide free adult ESOL and also a fee-based program in an attempt to accommodate more learners. They found that at least some learners were able to pay the fee and thus they were able to serve more learners.
We'd also like to know if your programs are open-entry/open-exit, with learners coming to class when they can and sometimes leaving for several classes before they return, or if you have tried some kind of "managed enrollment" with attendance expectations of those who are enrolled in your classes. Several community colleges have experimented with this approach and have found it effective. I know that Forrest will have more to say about this.
I have to go teach, but when I return, I'd like to talk a bit about issues surrounding literacy and prior education.
At our cc based adult learning center we do not charge any fees for instruction.
We have dabbled with the managed enrollment, however our institution is driven by enrollment and contact hours so that we simply cannot afford to operate in a managed enrollment fashion. I do believe that it is better for the teachers and students. Unfortunately, operating in a strict fashion, our enrollment took close to a 50% reduction. Still, recognizing the value of the concept, the past two years we have attempted a semi-managed enrollment. In the fall we have a 3 week enrollment period and then hold classes with no additional students for 5 weeks. Then an additional 3 week open enrollment followed by no new students for 5 weeks. Ideally, we would operate in this fashion year round providing some sense of continuity for the instructors and learners. Unfortunately, student attendance waxes and wanes due to employment, weather, transportation, etc. and in each year we attempted this we held to it through the second 5 weeks and then abandon it for the remainder of the year because student attendance/enrollment declined to the point that we had to enroll any learner whenever they were interested to meet our enrollment goals.
The bulk of our English learners enroll in the three levels of morning classes which meet Monday through Thursday from 8:30 until 11 a.m. Our evening program has varied from 2-3 levels. Evening classes meet Monday and Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. Both morning and evening classes are offered for approximately 38 weeks through the fall and spring semesters.
These offerings are "how we have always done it" and are somewhat bound by the available funds.
Jim, "I like the sound of eloquent" Schneider
That's too bad about your experiences with managed enrollment. Some of the colleges we studied think they "beat this rap" by creating very large managed enrollment classes to allow for attrition. (For them, managed enrollment meant that if students didn't attend on a regular basis, they were dropped from the program.) They figured that what they lost in head counts, they made up for in contact hours. But we also heard stories like yours. I'm beginning to believe that "managed enrollment" works best as one of several "tracks" -- if a program is large enough to have "tracks" -- a track for the motivated. Some programs believe that it is by itself "motivational" -- in that it encourages students to make more of a "commitment."
What do the rest of you think?
When the topic of managed enrollment has come up in my discussions with local administrators, more so in recent years, I have tried to reiterate that managed enrollment does not have to be an all or nothing proposition. In CT, where close to 90% of the public adult education expenditures come from state and local sources, several local program administrators don't like the idea of denying entry to a local resident until the next term/semester. It appears that our suggestion is similar to the "tracks" concept you mention -- of course, the program needs to have some minimum capacity in order to provide both managed and open entry options. Even large programs may only be able to offer "tracks" at one or two of their largest sites while the remaining smaller satellite locations may end up continuing with an open-entry approach.
The end game is about finding ways that enable learners to maximize their attendance hours. The most recent CAL study and two previous studies through CASAS (one with CA data and the other with CT data) confirm that learners who attend more hours (generally more than 100 hours) reflect the greatest gains in ESL. These studies also show that a large number of ESL students attend fewer than 60 hours. This brings us back to the persistence issue. Jodi raised a question in an earlier email about intensity and attendance. My hypothesis is that learners in more intensive (greater weekly intensity) classes attend more total hours than learners in classes where the same number of instructional hours are delivered over a longer duration. I have seen it manifested in some local program data but need to study it more.
Our research supports the idea you suggest: managed enrollment is usually offered as one option (and often not at all levels) at the larger campus sites, but not at remote locations. Interestingly, it usually seems to attract more students than it can handle. The limit, of course, is that it managed enrollment programs are usually also high intensity programs. Thus they require more teacher hours/level than do open entry/exit programs and therefore APPEAR more expensive. But if they move students up and out more quickly, then they would be LESS expensive in reality.
Our research on 5 colleges (in "Passing the Torch") supports your hypothesis that high intensity, managed enrollment students are more likely to attend more hours and to advance more levels, although we were not always able to quantify this.
Our CCSF research (in "Pathways and Outcomes") provides quantitative evidence that supports your observation (and that of others) that students who advance levels attend about 100-110 hours on average, BUT students who attend this many hours are more likely to advance if they do so consecutively (i.e. in the same term). CCSF offers few high intensity programs in the traditional sense, but students who enroll in the high intensity programs they DO offer both attend far more hours and advance far more rapidly. In contrast, we found that students who attend 50 hours or less rarely advance levels EVER. That doesn't mean they don't learn anything, but they don't learn enough to be promoted a level, and they almost always drop out.
CCSF also offers an interesting solution to BOTH the problems of how to blend high intensity instruction and how to deal with the problem (raised in various contexts in this discussion) of how deal with students who are more proficient in one of the ESL skills (perhaps because of prior education) than in others. They offer "Focus" programs at every level of instruction. Each focus program offers 5 hours per week of instruction in one of the core ESL skill areas (reading, writing, speaking, listening). Students in the mainstream 10/hour per week program (which teaches all 4 skills) are not required to take these focus programs, but some are advised to do so. A remarkably large percentage of students enroll in one or more Focus programs during their careers in non-credit ESL, and they almost always do so concurrently with the mainstream program. Hence these students elect a fairly high intensity schedule (15 hours per week) and one that allows them to make up for difficulties in mastering particular skills. Not surprisingly, we found that students who enroll in Focus programs attend more total hours, persist longer, and are more likely to advance than are other students. In a way, one can see Focus programs as one way of offering high intensity instruction as an option.
I have been reading most of the discussion comments and wanted to address a few issues. First, however, I'll give a summary of our program.
I teach ESL at Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey. Our program serves approximately 350 students from diverse language backgrounds. Our program offers two pre-academic levels of all skills ESL instruction (a six hour per week non-credit class). In addition, we have 5 levels of academic ESL preparation divided into three courses - Reading/Writing, Grammar, and Speaking/Listening). Our highest level Reading/Writing course gives successful students 6 elective credits that count towards RVCC graduation, but those credits do not transfer. Our semesters are 15 weeks. If a student misses 20% of any class, the instructor may withdraw that student (they are not, however, obliged to withdraw these students). At the moment, the late enrollment policy is that students may register for a course prior to the second week of class but not thereafter. Research, of course, indicates that students who begin a class late have a much higher rate of failure than those who begin on time.
In our program, we have three full-time faculty and approximately 16-18 adjuncts.
We have focused our program on academic prep ESL because we are a small program with limited resources, and we have a very difficult time finding qualified adjuncts. Also, a significant majority of our students have signaled their intention to obtain a college degree. Moreover, there are community programs that offer basic English skills although there is often a long waiting list to obtain the services. In other issues, we use the Accuplacer ESL test for placement and have in-house standardized tests at the end of each level of grammar and reading/writing
Within our classes, highly educated non-native speakers usually progress much more quickly. One of the most challenging groups is students who graduated from local high schools but still have inadequate English skills - and not infrequently, weak academic skills in general. One of the strategies that I would personally wish for is real communication between K-12 and community colleges so that students get the language skills they need before they enter college. I understand that there is great pressure to move students out of ESL in many school districts, but ultimately, it does a huge disservice both financially and in terms of motivation to students whose skills remain more BICS than CALP. (See: http://www.iteachilearn.com/cummins/bicscalp.html).
I agree with those who suggest that first language literacy issues should be addressed before students enter ESL. (See Transcript: GED in Spanish) However, it becomes complicated to find funding and support for such efforts. In my experience, students with low level literacy skills become frustrated and are not ultimately successful - probably by any definition. I am uncomfortable with the idea that they are spending hard-earned money when the chances for success in ESL are minimal. We advise students that the program is academically-oriented; often they have little understanding of what that means.
I do not agree with the suggestion that the bar be lowered so that students with low-intermediate skills be allowed in credit classes (at least at my college). Historically, other faculty have little experience handling language issues and are very unhappy when students cannot read, write and converse at an appropriate level of English. They end up feeling helpless. Students may pass classes; however, I suspect that instructors do not want to deal with the challenges and so turn a blind eye and let them through. Recently, there has been a problem in the nursing department with non-native English speaking students not passing board exams because they enter the college from other programs and circumvent ESL with us. They have trouble reading and answering questions on the exam. This is a significant problem because nursing programs are judged in terms of the success of their students on these standardized exams.
I think the measure of success should be based on a realistic assessment of student goals combined with a real-life discussion of the possibilities and limitations. Ideally, students would have incremental goals so that success could build. If the goals for students with low literacy levels are not carefully discussed and planned, then they will likely encounter more failure than success because their expectations will be unrealistic. The more we have the opportunity to talk to students, the more likely it is that they can develop short-term goals that are within their reach. Unfortunately, we have no control over the myriad of complications that accrue in their every day lives.
Kevin Hinkle, Ph.D.
Many thanks for providing all of us with a profile of your program. Seeing the variety of college program goals and designs is extremely valuable in stimulating ideas about how to do a better job in delivering ESL.
Personally, I think that it is perfectly valid for colleges to elect to offer solely pre-academic ESL at the non-credit level. But it does prompt the concern about whether other programs in the college's service area are providing non-academic ESL to large enough numbers of students and at a high enough quality to "feed" the college program - as well as how well their efforts articulate with yours. I wonder whether this troubles you, and if so whether/how you have addressed the issue. Frankly, I think one reason why many colleges offer comprehensive ESL programs is that they would prefer to "make" pre-academic students themselves, rather than rely on others to do it. Another reason, of course, if that they may not be eligible for federal/state grant money unless they offer comprehensive programs. Does your college receive these funds to support its pre-academic program? If not, how is it supported financially?
I heartily agree that helping students set realistic goals and understand their options is essential. I believe, however, that encouraging students to expand their goals as they succeed is also essential. For example, many immigrants come from countries where going to college is the privilege of very few, and thus may consider that an unrealistic goal unless they are encouraged to take the steps necessary (often one step at a time). The problem seems to be that it is hard for most programs to find the resources to provide very much guidance of any of these kinds to most students. I wonder if anyone has any solutions to THAT issue.
In any event, many thanks for fleshing out an interesting model.
I believe we do have a hard time getting enough students fed into our program and with the appropriate background to succeed if they do come to us. It is a real problem. There are some workplace ESL programs which are run through our Corporate and Continuing Education Office, but those students rarely, if ever, come to us. And they serve the employees of specific companies as opposed to the community at large.
Our ESL program is within an academic department in the college (Communication and
Languages) and so is run like every other. ESL students pay the same tuition and fees as all other students at the college. We do not receive special government funding beyond what the state and counties provide for the college as a whole as a part of our yearly budget.
Finances are probably a big reason why we are getting fewer students at the low levels.
Community programs are free or low cost; although in the scheme of higher education, the community college is less expensive, it may still be out of reach of many students.
In terms of having a more comprehensive program, we are limited by a small staff,
and the unlikelihood of being able to expand given college budgeting restraints. In addition, our three full-time faculty members (including myself) not only teach 15 credit hours per semester but also do the administrative work required. We do advising, scheduling, and the many other tasks associate with keeping the program afloat. The only "official" administrative support for the program is through the 3 hours of overload I receive to serve as Adjunct Coordinator.
The belief that they can attend college does not seem to be a problem with our population although I can certainly see that it could be. A growing problem for us (and many around the country) is the disconnect between high schools and colleges in terms of student preparation. Either the high schools do not think the students are college-bound and so don't bother to give them a college-prep course of study, or there is simply a growing gap between the expectations of each. Additionally, students seem to think that a high school diploma equates to college readiness.
We do our best to advise students, but we don't always have enough time - and as professors primarily - may not know ourselves what all of the options for students are.
Thanks for the explanation. I find it VERY useful. It's a very interesting model. I'm not surprised that your students are motivated for college, because they've signed up for a college prep track! What worries me are the limited aspirations of many lower level ESL students who may have college potential.
I understand now why you don't have the resources to operate a more comprehensive program. I've heard an increasing number of stories about areas were the LEA (Local Education Agency) runs the federal/state adult education ESL grant program and has asked the local college to take it over (because the LEA has concluded it's an "adult" program). Have there been any rumblings of that in your area?
Best of luck in your good work.
Not always the reason for an LEA-to-local college turnover of those federal and state adult ed funds. In my experience, it has simply and sadly been the result of limited resources and insufficient funds. And in some areas a CBO (not an LEA) manages those grant programs, offers classes free to the lowest literacy ESL/ESOL students, and is never able to fully bridge the gap between very part-time instruction and college.
One key element to our small successes has been having colleagues in each institution (local college, LEA, CBO, gov't DOE/DOL) who understand the dynamics and the gaps. Granted, most are still limited by the systems in which they work and to which they must be accountable. But there is still much to be said for permitting ourselves some case-by-case thinking, making those simple phone calls, and asking.
Bravo! Making connections with such limited funds is critical. I remember when major cities had councils which coordinated literacy/ESL services. I wonder if any of you have some kind of even an informal network that meets to discuss the most efficient and effective ways to use the minimal funds that are available.
We do have a WIB Literacy Committee and a Literacy Council linked to that committee. Well-intentioned participants but no action/change seems to result from meetings. There is not budget--or at least no funding freely available to the participating providers. Instead the $ flows through the One Stop Learning Link, targeting important needs that are often not the predominant needs of our ESL/ESOL programs. FYI - the Learning Link is managed by the local college (RVCC where Kevin is working)
The council coordinates dialog but always with a To-Work focus.
Actually the best collegial connections have come through professional organizations (NJALL - New jersey Association for Lifelong Learning) and through contacts made while presenting at Adult Ed conferences.
How to find time and money for more adult educators to attend those conferences? and how to keep the enthusiasm and motivation going long enough afterward to effect some benefit?
Very sad. This seems to be the story of WIB coordinating councils in most areas. There are some cities (Pittsburg and Hartford come to mind) where there are independent local literacy councils that seem to be able to coordinate things pretty well. Absent that, having a single comprehensive lead provider seems to be the only way to get coordination. That seems to be one reason why a growing number of states have channeled all their funding through Community College Boards - which then sub-contract with other providers in various ways.
I'm interested in the question Jodi asks too. As I understand it, local literacy councils have been on the wane, but I hope I'm wrong about that.
I'm aware that CBO's are the federal/state grant providers in some areas, although nationwide (according to DOE surveys anyway) they serve a far smaller percentage of students than do LEA's and colleges. I mean them no disrespect. I've seen some that were highly professionalized and provided superb service, and some that didn't -- just like colleges and LEA's J! It's the quality of the provider, not the type of provider that matters.
What interests me more is your reference to the implicit "division of labor" between CBO's and colleges or LEA's you mention. I think that in some areas this is fairly common: colleges or LEA's refer the lowest level students to CBO's (with or without the necessary funding). In most of the cases where I've seen this, it doesn't seem to work out very well. There isn't the coordination/collaboration to which you allude. In fact, I've sometimes had the impression that it's a way of dumping the hardest to serve students on CBO's. Too often these students become "out of sight and out of mind." And because the students ARE the hardest to serve, low success rates make the CBO's look bad, compared to the other providers - unfairly. I've tried to chase down information about this model in the past, but I haven't been very successful. I would love to know if any of the rest of you have experience with it, and how well you think it works.
Forrest - you are on target with your comments about the CBO-college connection, or lack thereof. And yes many fall through the cracks. Hence my previous comments about having contacts. This is not a systematized network of contacts (I'm a tad cynical about that route), but those in one's personal/professional circle--the people who can tell us when/if the system can be flexed, or not.
Without those contacts it would be very difficult for me to refer ESL students from our CBO program (FYI much time and effort spent ensuring that our programs are high-quality, accountable, and learner-driven) to other providers, including the college. Our students place a great deal of trust in our willingness and ability to help them get the education they need at a price/time/place that works. When I make a referral, it is a personal one, preceded by my phone call/e-mail to the contact. And always including my/their follow-up.
Fortunately the people on the other end of the referral know to refer back to me if their program is not suitable.
God bless you. But surely we deserve a real system to achieving this - one that doesn't rely on the individual initiative of great people. Because a lot of great people just can't devote the time or don't have the "contacts." Until we get beyond where we are, Adult Education will consistently sub-optimize, and will be a "system" in name only.
I think what you are demonstrating is the importance of personal contacts. I guess I'd also like to see some kind of structure to facilitate these, but if person-to-person works in your community, that's great.
My worry is about those who do fall through the cracks -- who don't know where to go or where to go next.
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