Mervin talks about his background, family, and hobbies (2:17)
How Mervin got his nickname of The Rapping Principal (3:45)
Mervin discusses his career path from college up to his work today, teaching educators all over America how to improve the leadership, instruction, systems, and culture in their schools (4:50)
Why and when Mervin decided to move from teaching to administration (7:28)
Some of the challenges Mervin has faced and overcome along the way, and how he did it (8:47)
Some of the important lessons Mervin learned from overcoming those challenges (15:18)
Two of the biggest moments of Mervin’s education career (19:15)
In most cases, the impact an administrator has differs from the impact a teacher has, but Mervin’s experience has been different, because of a conscious decision he made (21:15)
The Rapping Principal demonstrates his skills with an awesome impromptu rap! (26:22)
The best leadership advice Mervin has ever received – first, capture the hearts of the students, and their minds will follow (28:18)
Two of Mervin’s top book recommendations for educational leaders (29:11)
Mervin’s advice for administrators on working with students (30:10)
Mervin’s advice for administrators on working with teachers (30:35)
Advice on how to inspire teachers and admins to create a great school culture (32:01)
What Mervin would tell his younger self if he had a time machine and could go back and talk to himself when he was first starting out on his educational leadership journey (33:33)
Books mentioned in this episode
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Educators Lead Ep. 31 Believe In The Impact You Have On The Lives Of Your Students, Even If You Don’t Get To See It
Show notes: http://www.educatorslead.com/mervinjenkins/
Welcome to educators lead where we interview leaders in education to offer inspiration and practical advice to help launch educators into the next level of leadership. I’m your host Jay Willis and I want to thank you for subscribing to our show.
Intro: Mervin has worked as a middle school teacher, High school assistant principal, Middle school principal and central office administrator. He is currently the Eastern division assistant director at Avid Center. Mervin has received numerous accolades for his work and education. He was given the Zeta Phi Beta Southeastern Regional educational award, twice named Tar Heel of the week by Raleigh’s News and Observer, interviewed on NPR, and honored as Chatham Country School’s Principal of the Year. In 2014 Marvin was invited to the White House to participate in a round table discussion on education for Hispanic males in United States. As a speaker, Mervin inspires students, their parents, and educators on the importance of student learning and has a direct impact on our community. Mervin received his Bachelor of Arts in Art Education at Benedict College and his master’s degree in Secondary Education Administration at Charleston Southern University. That’s just a brief introduction Mervin, but tell us a little bit more about yourself.
Mervin Jenkins: Well Jay first of all, thank you for having me. I currently reside and very recently moved back to South Carolina. I’m married to Chiffon Jenkins she’s a children’s book author and she also works for a non-profit health care networking in the triangle area here in North Carolina. We have one son, Tauren, and he is a music writer and also works in a health care field in Atlanta Georgia. My hobbies personally I love collecting Marvel action figures and tampering with creative writing myself when it comes to a song writing whenever I have time for this. But that’s just some of it.
Jay Willis: So what’s your favorite action figure?
Mervin Jenkins: It’s really hard to say this now but it’s Ironman and I always tell people because I say that they think it’s about the movie, but I’m in my deep 40’s and I’m been doing Ironman since I was in middle school. So trust me I didn’t just jump on a bandwagon when the movies came out, I’m a huge Tony Stark with a heart of gold way back in the day.
Jay Willis: Yeah, that’s great. Now I have nine-year-old son who is crazy about marvel characters. That’s great.
Mervin Jenkins: I’ll tell you what, you definitely have to visit Charleston and I’ll show you the big toy room. These kids pass out when they see it.
Jay Willis: Yeah, I’m sure he would. He would love it. It’s great, so what is something besides the marvel action figure which is super awesome. What is something else is interesting about you that most people wouldn’t know.
Mervin Jenkins: I’m always taking a step back, from the music world but one point I was affectionately referred to as the rapping principal when it had a lot to do with me, in introducing hip hop music into the education world which is at the time I was doing it was something that you really didn’t see that, and it’s become common during the last decade or so, but I’ve been doing that for quite some time now and but the term coined by a famous hip hop artist is “edutainment.” I saw that as some of what I did and engaged students and did it in a way to make it relate to make it relevant in their world.
Jay Willis: Yeah, how fun is that. That sounds like your kind of inspiring me, maybe I should do some kind of special podcast episode.
Mervin Jenkins: It sounds like a plan buddy.
Jay Willis: Yeah, it’ll be fun. So, tell us a little bit about your career path. If you could just start maybe in college graduation and then take us from that point to where you are now.
Mervin Jenkins: Okay well, it’s pretty safe to say that my professional career in education started in 1997. This was a couple of years after I graduated from Benedict College in Columbia South Carolina. I begin working as middle school art teacher, while teaching full time, I also worked part time at night DJ at cosmic bowling; I was the DJ. During the early evenings I was enrolled to Charleston Southern University and after 3 years doing this working full time, part time and going to school part time I completed the masters in school administration at Charleston Southern so that would have taken us 2001 which that time I interviewed and invited to join the administration team at Chapel Hill High school in Chapel Hill North Carolina. and the years following I would serve on the District Office level, working as a coordinator for AVID, the company I currently work for and eventually a middle school principal neighboring Chatham County in North Carolina and again that whole journey led to me working where I am employed at the moment – my position would be the assistant director at the eastern division. There are four divisions, the eastern division we covered state of Maine all the way to Florida. The organization mission is basically to close the achievement gap by preparing all students, to college readiness, to success in all society. I like to tell people when they ask “what you do exactly?”, basically, our work revolves around training educators, classroom teachers, school councilors, principals and were really making an impact on what we call the 4 domains which leadership, instruction, system, and culture of the school. We’re currently touching about 1 million students across the US and in abroad and our goal is to impact over 2 million students by the year 2020.
Jay Willis: Yeah, that’s great. So, what point in your journey did you make the decision to move in to school leadership. So you, you were teaching art right?
Mervin Jenkins: Yeah.
Jay Willis: And then so was there kind of a trigger or was it just kind of a gradual realization that you might want to pursue that…
Mervin Jenkins: You know Jay as it relates to school administration I always tell people my mom inspired me to teach. She’s a retired teacher who still manages to find a platform to pretty much do that on a day to day basis. When I started in a classroom as a teacher myself I closely observed the work ethics of Mr. Billy Sanderson my principal at that time, and it was obvious that he was a team player, and he also had a position where he had a direct influence on how the students learned and I remember thinking that he made it fun for the students. He reminded me what I missed out on my own education upbringing. Somewhere doing this timeframe I just made up my mind to go back to school to get my degree in administration and to be the principal that I didn’t have. That’s sort of what sparked things for me.
Jay Willis: Yeah, that’s great so tell us about some of the journey to becoming a school administrator and some of the struggles. I mean, it sounds like you were super busy I mean with what two-part time jobs. Right?
Mervin Jenkins: So this was the schedule, I would get up at about 6 in the morning and arrive to school right around 7-7:15. The school day would end around 3 o’clock on maybe Mondays and Wednesdays, I would stop my graduate courses at around 5 in the evening and they would go until obviously 8-9 at night and then every weekend. And one work night during the week I’ll be at the bowling alley, DJ at the cosmic bowling – it would take off usually around anywhere between 8 o’clock and go on until 2 in the morning that one school night was a hard one I’m thinking rather than Tuesdays nights because I did it until 2 in the morning then with the school did a full day teaching then off ‘til to graduate school it was busy but you know what I tell people all the time if you’re going to do it, do it when you’re young and that’s what folks told me I’ve realized that once life kicked in and marriage, kids and all of the stuff came, you’ll realized that there aren’t enough hours in a day, enough hours to get it all done. So I’m just happy I was fortunate to be in this position and have the support around me at the time to get in there and push me all the way through.
Jay Willis: Yeah, so what are some things that you did to manage that and push through with such a hectic schedule?
Mervin Jenkins: You know it was hard because, I’ve mentioned being involved with hip hop and that was always a big part of my life since middle school. So that was really hard watching some of the groups that I performed with and seeing them sort of take off in the music profession and to feel like I was just sort of running in place with the whole education thing. And it’s just amazing to watch over the years and see that education is truly the great equalizer because I look at what a lot of my friends who put it all into music ended up doing and how things worked out for myself just by focusing on education number one and music number two. It just made a huge difference. And so just staying focused, I mean going back to your question it was hard but I just had to stay focused, and when other kids were going to the clubs and going out of town for the weekend, for the big concerts I knew I couldn’t do it. I was fine with that, I was one of those guys that always said this will pay off and I thank god every day that I managed to see it through.
Jay Willis: Yeah, and keep that perspective when you’re surrounded by peers who might be more successful at that time. Just to keep, to stay in the course. That’s great.
Mervin Jenkins: It’s hard Jay, especially to young people because obviously we live in a world where more and more even young folks and adults alike were used to getting things right when we want it, on the spot, instant gratification, that’s really not a reality in a lot of aspects of a day to day living, keeping that balance and keeping focused are some huge skills to have.
Jay Willis: Yeah, so obviously juggling, managing your time effectively was probably one of the biggest struggles but what are the other struggles that you encounter? Maybe during the journey or maybe even in your first year to two, once you became an administrator.
Mervin Jenkins: During the journey, probably the biggest challenge was at the time it’s funny you see me now and I’m pretty much bald headed but back then, I had been growing locks, dreadlocks, they were rather long and I had my college professor tell me upon graduation that she didn’t think that it would be a good idea for me to apply in the Southeastern region because no one would probably hire me with my hair how it was.
And then I found it out in the first several interviews that I did for the administrator position that was quite true even down to one principal saying to me when I asked her and gave her an opportunity to hire me and she said yes they will not hire you in this community and it would not be received well, if you wear your hair like that, so that was a huge challenge. Even when I got my first job and I can say this now, because all the players are retired, when I got my first job I was asked by the director of Human Resources on this particular District if I would be willing to cut my hair for the job. And my response was simply, thank you but no thank you. I said every day we tell kids behind closed doors you want them to be accepting, open arms just tolerant folks whose lives may be different from their own and here we are behind closed doors asking me if I will cut my hair for the position. I told them I appreciate the opportunity for the interview but I think I will be moving on obviously thought I wouldn’t get the job but a few weeks later, I got a phone call the job was offered and I wanted to make sure the next guy who came through with the dreadlocks wouldn’t catch the crap I went through the last time. And I understand, I wasn’t upset by it with so many years I expected it in some sense but at the same time if we would be going to be true to the students that we served, and then let’s be true to one another. And I’ve been carrying that attitude for quite some time now and also it makes it easy to just engage to young people as their worth.
Jay Willis: Yeah, well I’ve never had dreadlocks but I definitely relate to the bald side of things. (Laughter) So, I guess you know speaking about some of these struggles that you’ve encountered, for me personally anyway everybody has challenges that they deal with but one thing that I’ve noted though that it is really true that it’s from the adversity that I have grown the most which is difficult. It’s not really I’ve preferred it that way cause you don’t really enjoy the struggles but at the same time you grow the most as the person thru those struggles so what would you say were some of the greatest lessons that you took away from those challenges and then like how is it shaped you, on who you are today and how does it shape you as an administrator?
Mervin Jenkins: You know I think just being involved and staying engaged with the youth has been a huge asset and my principal Mary Anne Hutterback, she’s now a superintendent up in Wisconsin , she taught me early on in the profession as a school leader to draw the line in the ground with work relationship and being professional versus downtime and I struggled with that because when I’m waiting the school administration I was 29 years old and as an assistant principal at Chapel hill High school and obviously at 29 I still wanted to have a good time and most of the administrators that were my colleagues were much older than I was at that time so it was the teachers at the school who were in my age group and for the most part so just learning that administration can be a very lonely place. That was something she taught me and it certainly helped out just over the years and being in the role and setting that example. I still had obviously friends in that age group but I made sure it was out of the work building and not related to anything I was doing in the school district and when I went in there it was certainly a different mode of operation and I can’t say it was easy but I certainly adjusted and I like to say, I did pretty well with it.
Jay Willis: Yeah, your kind of in a spotlight in leadership and I heard it before you just, it’s kind of lonely in leadership but a lot of it was just to do it right, I think it’s Vince Lombardi says something about that, it’s just you have to a clear separation between you can’t really, it’s like there’s a separation between being their friend and…if you really want to be effective as a leader, you can’t completely always be their friend.
Mervin Jenkins: Absolutely. Yeah, I tell parents all the time if your kids are always happy with you you’re probably not doing something right. That’s the reality.
Jay Willis: Yeah, well sometimes that hurts especially if you’re a people pleaser but at the same time if you just in perspective and look back at your own life and those people who cost you to grow the most, usually those people that like at that time, you didn’t like it because they pushed you harder than you wanted to be pushed.
Mervin Jenkins: Absolutely.
Jay Willis: So, you know the same way as the adversity. That’s where you grow the most, right? Is that true? The harder things that you do. So, you know you’ve been in Administration for a while I’m sure you have some amazing stories of the impact that you had a chance to be a part of, witnessed, I know that you have so many, but if you could take us to maybe one of your best moments as a school administrator can you share that story?
Mervin Jenkins: You know, keep in mind Jay. I could probably answer this one differently any given day of the week. Two things come along right now. One as you’ve mention in the intro, when I was contacted by Dick Gordon with NPR, the show was called The Story on the NPR National Syndicated Program he had heard about the rapping principal in Chapel Hill Southern North Carolina and did the interview and I talked about my involvement with the hip hop music and education. That was a huge platform and certainly one that I’ll never forget. And then the second thing the comes to mind was just the hard work in becoming the school administrator in Chapel Hill School District in North Carolina because ironically enough that is where I was introduced to Avid for the very first time. Chapel Hill was the first school district in the state of North Carolina. To implement the AVID system and to end up working for the organization and having my start in administration is just sort of surreal to be with the group that is making a tremendous impact in school leaders and teachers around the world. It’s just great being a part of something so big, I have to say that’s another key moment for me because at that time even though I was assigned the duty of being the Avid administrator within the building, which I had no idea what that would entail, who would have known all these years later I’d be working for the organization so, I got to say that was another big one.
Jay Willis: Yeah, so to kind of transition of it a little I guess because I know some of our listeners who are not yet in school administration but they’re considering going in to school administration they might be thinking I don’t want to go to the dark side and they kind of worried about, you know the connection that they feel with the classroom students and I’m sure some of that happens but speaking I guess specifically to that concern how do you feel you’re impact as an administrator. How was that different from the impact that you had as a teacher?
Mervin Jenkins: You know, I’m probably not the right person to answer this one because I really never left the students. You have to understand when I say to you or when I said to you earlier that I’m here with this thinking I would be the principal that I’ve never had, I was so born with that and I just made a pledge that I would not lose sight of the most important reason why we were in that building as adults. And it was the students. So I was the kid’s administrator and that meant every day I’ve never failed to visit classrooms and not just walking for 5 minutes but sit down, engage in the learning with the students. I just never had that feeling and I hate that, as many administrators say, you sort of lose touch when you come out of the classroom and I can certainly understand that if you allow that to happen or if you’re in a situation where it’s being required of you but I was fortunate enough to work with some superintended and principals all from my assistant principal days and on to my school principal days that they’re very open to the idea of me being part of students’ lives and just day to day and so I made that happen. I honestly can’t say I saw what it was like to be removed from the students, I just never let that happen.
Jay Willis: Yeah, I like this. So how does that play out? Like how do you transition like you did from the classroom to becoming a principal and still keep that connection? What did you do to make that happened?
Mervin Jenkins: I took advantage of time, I mean obviously I had a lot of practice with that practice in early on going thru the phases of becoming a school administrator from everything from being at school early in the morning because you had kids that are there before most of the adults and that was the time to engage and interact with them. Obviously during lunch time, most of the administrators look at lunch time as “I have some teachers on duty I can actually go on my office and sit down and handle some paper work”, and that’s fine. I understand that certainly no argument but for me personally I took that time as well and I was on duty so again time to interact with the kids talk with them, see what’s happening in their world you know in reality it saved me so much time on a discipline side of things as far as being the disciplinarian I got to say that level of engagement with students I can imagine how much time I saved myself from making phone calls to parents saying that Johnny did something bad he was supposed to be suspended and such, I really think that just cut a lot of that.
Jay Willis: Yeah, the thing that I’m getting again and again in this podcast is just you know once you’re an administrator don’t think like it is you’re going to an ivory tower to look down on all of your subjects and derive with some high position that like you were kind of I heard you’re preferred to as lead learner or servant leader and you kind of look at yourself, don’t like separate yourself, but really try to continue to stay super engaged with students.
Mervin Jenkins: Yes, it is not easy. Obviously it’s not easy there was days at central office calling on you there was times I was felt like I was spending too much time at the central office whether it was principal’s meeting some type of training taken place you throw me in a few out of town conferences but I feel like if you put the focus there just use your time wisely you will find a way to stay engaged with the young folks.
Jay Willis: Being intentional that’s probably the biggest part that we can take away from that.
Mervin Jenkins: Being intentional.
Jay Willis: Yeah, that’s not going to happen by accident.
Mervin Jenkins: No, for sure.
Jay Willis: Yeah, so I’m going to put you on the spot for a second but you could totally say no. Do you have an example of the rapping principal?
Mervin Jenkins: An example.
Jay Willis: You know like any little song you could, any clip that you could give us here?
Mervin Jenkins: I don’t have a particular song – one of the things I was known for is just for some freestyling so this is gonna be off top of the head.
Jay Willis: Let’s do it.
Mervin Jenkins: And it is your fault Jay if I end up with the curse word before we roll.
Jay Willis: Ha-ha okay.
Mervin Jenkins: Alright:
Spectac’s the name ya’ll this is a blast
Educators Lead that’s the podcast
I’m here today for the interview
With my boy Jay Willis we could talk for a few
And tell these folks how it all got started
From the days of the early departed
And those that are here and went and come
The words of some or the words of none
It doesn’t really matter cuz I’m sure to reach ya
I did it as a principal and did it as a teacher
Nice with the feature that’s how we go
So I’m back once again to hit ‘em all with the flow
Spectacular there is none greater
I dedicate this to school administrators
Keep up the work although it’s hard
And I throw in a prayer to my main man God
Stayin’ on point ya’ll that’s the flow
And here’s one more thing that you need to know
Spectac’s the name and we’re havin’ a blast
The educator’s here peace to the podcast.
Jay Willis: That was awesome.
Mervin Jenkins: We try to do what we do.
Jay Willis: That’s fantastic.
Mervin Jenkins: I try to have a good time.
Jay Willis: Yeah I wish I had an applause track that I could play right here Ha-ha
Mervin Jenkins: Yeah, it’s a whole lot better when I’m there’s a beat behind me. So
Jay Willis: Right, I thought about this I’m not really good at that so ha-ha Sometimes I do messing with the kids but it doesn’t really sound pretty.
Mervin Jenkins: You got it man.
Jay Willis: Oh great, thank you for that. So I have in just to wrap it up here some rapid fire question if you’re ready for those.
Mervin Jenkins: Let’s do it.
Jay Willis: So, what’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
Mervin Jenkins: I’ll tell you this, something I heard early on I think I might have been at the high school as an assistant principal at the time but I heard a parent say to me that she was wowed by a principal in Riley North Carolina opening night as he did his meet and greet and his comment to the audience was I’m not sure if the phrase belongs to him but he basically said “First, I capture the hearts of the students and then their minds will follow”, and that’s always stuck with me.
Jay Willis: Powerful, that’s good. So what would you say is your biggest strength as a school administrator?
Mervin Jenkins: Definitely when I was in the role, engaging young people and parents.
Jay Willis: Is there a book or two that you would recommend or school leaders that were influential for you?
Mervin Jenkins: My downfall in education is my lack of reading but the two most recent pieces of literature I engaged in…. the Art of Coaching and that’s by Elena Aguilar and then there’s another book from a hometown hero back here in North Carolina. It’s called From My Culture to the Mainstream and Back Again and that’s by Dr. Robert E Bridges, former superintendent of Wade County public schools there in North Carolina.
Jay Willis: Okay I put those on the show notes to check those out. So, what advice would you have for a school administrator working with the students that they served?
Mervin Jenkins: Basically I would just say that our work is not one where we always get to experience instant gratification that I mentioned earlier, but you just do it simply having the faith that you will and you have made a difference.
Jay Willis: Yeah, so kind of along those lines what piece of advice would you have for working with other teachers in the building?
Mervin Jenkins: Keep communication lines open at all times. One of the things, one of my biggest mistakes when I was in the classrooms is, I worked in a school that was predominantly African-American low income situation over 90% free/reduced lunch and I thought things were going really well in my classroom and I sort of wore my badge of honor as in “hey I got this down pat and you need to get your act together”, versus reaching out and offering assistance to my colleagues. I just sort of felt like I got it going on, my kids love me, we’re getting the work done, best of luck to you. And it’s sad to say that but I like to be upfront and be honest and that’s the truth. I talk with teachers a lot now and I always mention my failings in that early part of my career and why it is so important that they do communicate. Because when communication’s not taking place you can probably put that to 50% of the damage that happens in and around schools on a daily basis. So just keep the lines of communication open, and teamwork.
Jay Willis: So what kind of things did you do to help inspire the culture that community culture that you most wanted to have as a principal what did you do as far as working with the teachers to help develop that culture?
Mervin Jenkins: Looking back something that really worked well was going into the school – it had a reputation for being closed door… parents weren’t made to feel welcome and the community in general one of the first thing I did was invite religious leaders in the community, business leaders in the community parents and really had an open house that they were allowed to come in sit down and talk about concerns they had and what ways we could address them. And that just really engaged them in a way that it had never been done before or in quite some time I should say and then getting the teachers aboard having that same attitude open classroom doors, parents should be allowed to come in and feel okay to sit and observe and if there’s something they would like to do. And changing that whole culture and everything that dealt with building relationship that’s pretty much the focus and everything I saw it went back to building relationships and personally I just think it made a world of difference
Jay Willis: Yeah, I’m sure it did. So last question if you had a time machine, and you could go back to the point in time when you had just made a decision to go into school leadership and you could give yourself one piece of advice, what advice would you give to the younger version of yourself?
Mervin Jenkins: You know this is funny and it’s a great question, I’m sitting here thinking about it. The only way I can answer that Jay is to say working with the organization I work with now, Avid Centre, we do a lot of work with school leaders and every time I sit in one of those sessions and watch these administrators being engaged by our professionals it makes me think about all the things I could’ve done different in my role as school leader. The little simple things that would’ve certainly made a difference you know in education. It does make me say I wish I could’ve been a part of this program a whole lot earlier than I got involved with it because I’m sure I would’ve brought just a different twist to the way I was leading at the school level.
Jay Willis: What are some ways that you’ve seen that helps change people’s perspective on leadership?
Mervin Jenkins: So here’s a good example that I love… when I became a school administrator there was a problem with students being tardy in the class and so forth, so I came up with the policy that basically said if a student is late to class 3 times, they will get an in-school suspension, if they’re late to class after that they will be sent home for a day and have to bring a parent back, the list goes on and on. After working with Avid, in the leadership strand they talk about systems being aligned and a perfect example reflects the scenario I just gave. Here’s an example of systems not being aligned because although I had this as a policy, at the same time I was listing in my school improvement plan that, along with the rest of the staff, that we were going to decrease school tardiness, kids being absent from school. How was that going to work if we had a plan in place that was going to punish them if they were tardy and eventually have them being at home and suspended from school? That was plans or systems not being aligned. And I just didn’t get it at the time but being there now and watching this I certainly see where and that’s the perfect example where my systems weren’t aligned and it definitely can’t work. It’s almost like the human body if everything is not balanced and in place you’re going to be sick buddy. Heart problems, colds, whatever it may be, you’ve got to have those systems aligned.
Jay Willis: That’s good. Edu-Leaders this has been a great interview today for the show notes of today’s show visit educatorslead.com and type the word Mervin into the search tool to find more information about this episode. Mervin, thank you for sharing your journey with us today.
Mervin Jenkins: Jay it has been a beautiful experience and continues to be. Thank you for doing what you’re doing and putting this out for so many people. I know it’s going to make a difference man, God bless you keep up the good work.
Jay Willis: I appreciate it. And that wraps up our todays episode of Educators Lead.
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Educators Lead is a podcast created to help launch educators into the next level of leadership. This show is for you if you are interested in educational leadership as an assistant principal, principal, superintendent, teacher or someone who hopes to be a school leader one day. Educators Lead offers inspiration and practical advice to help you lead more effectively. Jay Willis interviews school leaders three days a week to discuss why and when these educators made the decision to move into school leadership, challenges along the journey, and stories that made it all worthwhile. Educators Lead is a great resource for any educator looking to make a greater impact.
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