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Funnies From the Classroom

This has been quite the week in my classroom, let me tell you.

Oh, not that it’s been bad, mind you…just interesting.

You really never know what you’re going to get when you’re talking about spending 270 minutes a day in a classroom with sixty different students.

Take, for instance, Wednesday morning during my first class.

That is a class that has a vibe all its own.  The class is like a family full of brothers and sisters who love to annoy each other.

They also lack a filtering system when they speak.

On Wednesday, my most outspoken student, a female (bet ya didn’t see that one coming) said, upon looking me up and down, “Mrs. AuburnChick, you know you really should have worn the other black shoes with the blue heels.  Then, you could have worn a blue undershirt to stand out against the sweater.”

Here are the shoes I was wearing…

I can’t believe that I actually thought my sparkles would be enough to pass muster with the kids.

Sheesh.  They have high standards!

Toward the end of class, I was doing my read aloud.

Smack dab in the middle, the same young lady randomly said, “Mrs. AuburnChick, you have an angry vein.”

Please go back and read that again, because I did not type it incorrectly.

I scrunched up my face in confusion and asked her to clarify.

“You have an angry vein,” she repeated.

I was still utterly confused.

That’s when she pointed to the middle of her forehead and told me I had an angry vein running down it.

Then, I knew exactly what she was talking about.

When I was about two or three years old, I split my forehead wide open when I slipped on the floor and hit my head on a heating vent.  Back in those days, the vents were in the floors, not the ceilings.

I remember the drive to the hospital.  I also remember lying on the table while the doctor stitched me up.

The doctors said my scar would eventually move up to my scalp as I got older and my head grew larger.

It didn’t.

I explained all of this to my students.  I finished up by telling them that apparently my head hadn’t grown much, although my brain had.


That’s when they zinged me with, “Well, your head is mighty big, Mrs. AuburnChick…especially when you wear your hair in a ponytail.”

Oh yes, they did.

It had been one of those mornings.

They are lucky that I have a good sense of humor.  You should have heard them laughing!

I am blessed beyond measure to teach, and I treasure the lighter moments that come when I least expect them but need them the most!

Public Release of VAM Scores – My Thoughts

A couple of days ago, teachers across Florida received the news that the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Educators Association had lost a legal battle to keep VAM (Value Added Measurements…aka a teacher’s evaluation data) out of the public eye.

Oh yes, the media had flexed its powerful arms and fought mightily to have this data made available to the public at large.

Not only can the media request it but parents can as well.

What does this mean?

Basically, if people want to see my VAM score from last year, they can.

Here are my thoughts…given by a fourth-year teacher who’s still learning the ropes, mind you.

VAM scores are determined by many different factors.  I posted the ridiculous formula somewhere on my blog last year (BTW, this is why I am not a math teacher, although most of ours can’t figure out this formula).

VAM scores supposedly compare students across the state.

Yeah.  Right.

One huge factor in the VAM scores is data from FCAT and other standardized exams.  The State of Florida looks for learning gains, in the case of FCAT, and pass/fail in the case of other exams such as End of Course, which might sound simple if you don’t work in the trenches…i.e. in the classroom…but is, in actuality, not so simple at all.

The VAM scores do not take into consideration students’ attendance records, discipline history (and, thus, time spent out of the classroom because of behavior infractions), emotional ups and downs that prevent students from focusing, hunger, homelessness, and neglect, whether intentional or unintentional by parents who cannot or will not devote the attention needed to raise well-rounded young adults.

Here is my beef.

If someone wants to look at a teacher’s VAM score, that’s all well and good; however, that person is only going to get one side of the story.

The person won’t know that a certain student skips class three out of the five days each week, nor will the person know that many of a teacher’s students come to school hungry each day.  This affects learning because those children cannot focus in class because they are too exhausted from empty bellies.

Is there a place in the VAM equation that allows for these factors?

I rather doubt it.

What about the kids who leave directly from school, work until 8 or 9pm, stay up past midnight doing homework, forget to eat in the process, and get maybe three or four hours of sleep.

That’s the norm, my friends, especially in schools where a household is lucky if it has one working parent.  Students are often called upon to fill in the gap with their minimum-wage jobs.

What about the students who miss half of the school year because they have to stay home and care for younger siblings because their parents are unable to do so themselves?

Will the person who requests VAM information be privy to the inside information?

Heck no.

I have nothing to hide.  I am not ashamed of my VAM score.

Do you want to know why?

It’s because I don’t measure success by one incomprehensible number that some freakingly ridiculous person-who-thinks-he/she-is-the-end-all-be-all-to-all-things-teaching-and-math-related.

I know what happens in my classroom.

I build relationships with students who don’t have people at home to talk to.

I hold children accountable for their actions by requiring them to show up to class on time, in school dress code, ready to work a solid ninety minutes.

I build up my students’ confidence by praising them for their daily accomplishments, however large or small the steps might be.

I feed their bellies and their minds.

I create readers because of my love of reading.

I foster an environment where we talk about life, manners, and curriculum.

The public will never see these things because the public isn’t in the classroom for the 48,600 minutes that I am each year (I did the math on the calculator).

The VAM formula doesn’t have a place for those things because they can’t be measured.

Truly do I love my job, but I don’t think that many outside of education understand that one number or rating isn’t a complete reflection of how effective a teacher is.

Evidence of a Highly Effective teacher can be seen in the proud strut of a high school senior on graduation night is one measurement…

The hug a teacher gets when a student visits the following year…

The trust a teacher sees reflected in the eyes of twenty-six students who have sat down to take FCAT Writes…a trust that the teacher has done everything he/she can do to prepare said students for the writing test.

So, to those who want to look at a teacher’s VAM, exercise your legal right, by all means, but please remember before you start pointing fingers or sit down in judgement, that teachers are human beings teaching little human beings who are trying to deal with all of the crap that life throws their way (the teachers kind of have a lot of crap thrown their way too, truth be told).

Just as one performance isn’t the measure of a singer or actor, one score isn’t the measure of a teacher.  A lifetime of teaching hundreds of children…well, that’s the true measure.

Seeing My Way Through the Hodgepodge

It’s time for the Hodgepodge!  How I do love these questions and look forward to them every week!  A huge thanks to Joyce for hosting!

1.  What is something you’ll never forget about the age you are right now?

Let’s see…I’m 43, going on 44.  I guess the thing I’ll never forget about this age is how one child left home and began earning her own way.  Sometimes I feel too young to have grown children!

2.  What’s a household chore you’ve never done? How have you managed that???

I’ve pretty much done every household chore, from cleaning out the gutters to mowing, to unstopping clogs.  I do all of the home repairs and a lot of cleaning.  I can’t think of anything, short of reroofing the house, that I haven’t done!

3.  Does nature shape our personalities more than nurture? Explain?

This is a tough question!  While I certainly believe that nature determines our personalities, I also think that nurture has a gigantic impact on them as well.  I look at my students and can see who comes from a caring home and who doesn’t.  I know, from personal experience, how not being nurtured affected me and the person I am today.  My insecurities stem directly from a difficult childhood devoid of consistent love.  Ultimately, I think that a nurturing environment can help turn our personalities toward those that are more positive in nature.  The same can be said in reverse.

4.  Friday (February 28th) is ‘Something on a Stick Day’…funny because Zoanna over at A Penchant for Pens recently sent me an idea for a question relating to this topic. What’s your favorite food eaten on a stick?

I don’t eat food on a stick, so I really can’t answer this question.  I’m rather lame, am I not?

5.  Which of your five senses do you treasure most, and why?

I thought a lot about this, and I think I’d have to say that I treasure my sight the most.  I was very nearsighted through my 20’s…nearly legally blind in one eye…with severe astigmatisms in both eyes.  Thankfully, I was able to have corrective eye surgery performed by an excellent doctor in South Florida, and my vision was restored to 20/20.  When I sat up on the table after the laser surgery, I cried when I discovered that I could see the hands on the clock.  I couldn’t remember how to tell time at that point, mind you, because I was so emotional, but nothing was blurry.  All the way home, I read out sign names as if I’d been blind the entire duration of my life.  I even drove myself to my follow-up appointment the next day.

I guess you can see why I think vision is so important to me.  I don’t take beautiful sunsets for granted…the sight of my children…my fuzzy fur babies.  They are all beautiful and a blessing to behold.

6.  What’s the best music, theatre, or sporting venue you’ve been to? What made it great?

My favorite venue has to be Auburn’s football stadium.  The love that the fans have for all things Auburn makes the feel of the place contagious.  I love that I can be sitting next to somebody I don’t know and be exchanging email addresses by the end of the game…drawn together by a mutual love for our Auburn Tigers.

I took this picture when we got to step on the field during a tour two seasons ago.

7.  It’s the last week of the month…in five words or less bid adieu to your February.

Four weeks until Spring Break.

8.  My Random Thought

I have become addicted to buying books for my classroom.  I constantly read book reviews, am a member of a group page on Facebook where each member is trying to read 100 books in a year and post reviews of the books we’ve read, and take note of my students’ reading selections so I can purchase more that they like so they will keep reading.

My latest purchase (before the one I placed yesterday afternoon) was this bunch…

Unbroken tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a member of the Air Force, who was shot down and taken captive during WWII.  I saw his story highlighted during Olympic coverage because before entering the military, he had been in the Berlin Olympics.

I bought this book because I have a student who loves the military and books related to it.

City of Bones was a purchase I made at the request of another student.  I want to read this series and plan on collecting all of the books.  I may not get around to reading them until the summer, though.

The third book was recommended by my mentor, Cinda.  It provides suggestions on how to foster a love for reading through specific and novel (pun intended) strategies that go beyond those that are passed around among most teachers.  I can’t wait to dig into it but will wait until Spring Break or after FCAT because the print is small.  It’s a “teacher” book, that’s for sure.


Prisoner B-3087: A Book Review

Last week, I finished my seventh book of the year…Prisoner B-3087, by Alan Gratz.

This book caught my attention the week before the book fair at my school.  During announcements, a book trailer was shown…

The book was so popular that the media specialist had to order more of them!  I bought one (no surprise there, eh?).

This book is based on the true story of Yanek Gruener, a young Jewish boy, who lives in Poland before and during the outbreak of World War 2.  He watches as his parents get led away one day and, eventually, he is rounded up as well and sent to his first concentration camp.

He would wind up living in ten different camps throughout the war.  His description of each camp, the prisoners, and the atrocities he witnessed both there and during marches between camps will break your heart.

That he lived through them is a testament of the human spirit.

This is a book geared for middle and high school students.  It was a quick, easy read, but what sets it apart is the descriptions, told from a teenager’s point of view.  Although I am an adult who has read quite a number of stories about the Holocaust, this story will always stand out.

Found this through a search on Google images. This is Yanek (Jack) showing a class the tattoo of his prisoner number.

Favorite Olympic Moments

I’m feeling sad right now because the Olympics are officially over.

How I do love them and look forward to the celebration of athletic achievements every two years.

This Olympic season was, once again, full of so many memorable stories.  I consider myself a study of people, so I’m naturally drawn to the personal stories that accompany the games.  Boy, some of them were heart-wrenching too!

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite.

First off, Meryl Davis and Charlie White…

Doesn’t she remind you of Jasmine, from Aladdin?  I love how they were constantly there for each other.  The smallest gestures…never letting go of each others’ hands, his tender care of her through every movement…these bespoke the trust that they spent years nurturing.  I could have watched them skate for hours.

Noelle Pikus-Pace…mom of two who won the silver medal for skeleton…

She struck the perfect balance between wife, mother, and athlete.  What an inspiration to women who want it all!

Our men’s bobsled team, led by Steve Holcomb who tried to end his life a few short years ago but overcame that despondency to earn two more medals!

Mikaela Shiffrin, teenage downhill skier who is absolutely brilliant.  I was impressed when I saw a story about how she has studied various skiers’ nuances and blended them into her own unique style.  She was a joy to watch!

My admiration isn’t just for American athletes.

I was so touched by Canada’s Alexandre Bilodeau.  His repeat gold medal win was especially touching because of his brother, who has Cystic Fibrosis, who cheers him on at every competition.

Julia Lipnitskaia stole my heart with her youthful and spot-on skating during her short program and team competition.  Although she made some mistakes in the long program, she’ll be back, I’m sure of that.

Stories that broke my heart…

Bode Miller…

I’ve watched his Olympic career from the beginning and have seen his ups and downs.  He’s definitely struggled but seems to have finally matured because of a supportive wife and, unfortunately, through the death of his brother.  He had a difficult Olympics, but despite this, he handled himself with grace.

Russian skater, Yevgeni Plushenko, had a most glorious swan song, so to speak, during his team event.  My heart broke for him when he had to pull out of the individual competition minutes before he was to perform.  He has overcome so many physical difficulties and truly will remain a legend in this sport.

One of the things that struck me about this particular Olympics was the resilience of the Russian people.  They live tough lives.  Their environment, physically and politically, is harsh.  They’ve weathered many, many storms.

One such storm was the loss of the Russian hockey team, Lokomotiv, in a plane crash in 2011.  The special that NBC did on this team made me cry.

To hear of the player who donated many thousands of dollars to the young woman undergoing cancer treatment made me weep harder.  His donation went undiscovered until after his death.

The way this team’s deaths affected the Russian people broke my heart, and I hurt for the friends, family, and hockey teammates left behind.

I think I am getting more sentimental the older I get.  Maybe it’s just that I have a greater appreciation for life…for its struggles…for its high points.

I so admire those who rise above their circumstances to achieve greatness.

I admire those who, though falling short of the mark, still give it their all, like the snowboarders who get up and finish the race or the skater who finishes a program when he/she has made a mistake that will take him/her out of medal contention.

I appreciate how, for two weeks, politics are set aside and humanity is celebrated.

Isn’t that what we’re here for?  To help one another…to celebrate with one another?

I’m sad but happy…all at the same time…for once again, my faith in humanity was restored a little bit, and I believe that was the purpose back when the Olympics originally began.

A Sweater for Gambit

As you know, I’m a member of a Harry Potter Knit/Crochet forum on Ravelry.  It’s a fun way to craft items and compete against others for points.

One of the fun Ravelry traditions involves a spinoff of the Olympics.  Ravelry’s version is called Ravellenics.  The more items you knit that fit in various categories, the more medals you earn.

I challenged myself by setting a goal of knitting three projects worth a total of 750 yards to get maximum Quidditch points for the Harry Potter forum and Ravellenics medals for that section of Ravelry.

The first project was my pair of socks, which I blogged about a few days ago.

My second project was a sweater for Gambit.  He was in desperate need because all he had was a Christmas sweater, which fits him perfectly, and a Disney one that isn’t really the correct size.

I found a free pattern on Ravelry, took some of Gambit’s measurements (that was real interesting, let me tell you), and got to work.

I used size 5 needles and Caron Simply Soft yarn.

We had several fitting sessions, and being the easy-going dog that he is, he acquiesced my requests…

My gauge swatch lied to me, and when I checked while working on the sweater, I noticed that I was getting more stitches per inch.  I had to adjust a bit but didn’t start over.

I wound up finishing the sweater Saturday afternoon.  It fits fairly well, but when I make another one, I’ll make the belly a lot longer and keep the back wider when I begin the shaping.

He seems to like it though!

I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Reflecting on Student-Created Rubrics

So it’s currently Wednesday as I “pen” this post, and I’m sitting at home reflecting about my day of teaching.

As you might remember, I’ve been on a quest to stretch myself as a teacher while also stretching my students.  My most recent foray into uncharted waters involves having classes create their own rubrics for a small writing assignment.  I blogged about it here.

On Wednesday, students finished writing their rubrics and evaluated each tables’ creations via a Kagan structure called Carousel Feedback.  I’ve used this structure below, and it’s been a popular one.

To keep students accountable, I created this form for each table to complete:

Click to embiggen

I did have to go back and ask students to give specific feedback if the answers to the questions were “yes.”  They were answering yes just to finish quickly.  Being specific required them to dig deeper and justify their responses.

I also had to help students begin answering the questions.  They’d never analyzed a rubric this way, so it was a learning experience for all of us.

After students finished, we began discussing common things they had seen…had a lot of tables left off important skills that needed to be measured?  Which skills needed to be weighted heavier?  Students had assigned percentages (see below) to the skills.  This was the BEST discussion of all because it required students to really analyze what the purpose of the writing assignment was and match it up to the importance of the skills on their rubrics.

I was pleasantly surprised when one of my students insisted that topic sentences be weighted heavily because, in her words, “That’s the main idea, and without it, a reader won’t know what the paragraph is about.”

Hello?  Can I hear a Whoop Whoop?!

I am thinking that perhaps some of the teaching is beginning to stick!

Take a look at a couple of rubrics and evaluation forms my students completed.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

We then discussed which skills should be on the final rubric (each class rubric wound up being a little different), and I wrote down these skills under the document camera.  Then, we decided on the weights to assign the skills.

When I got home from work, I filled in the rest of the rubric, using the feedback they had provided on their evaluation forms.  The rubrics I finished Wednesday night looked like this…

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

This has been an interesting experience.  I wish I’d introduced rubric-creation using non-academic material, but that is something I will change next year when I teach this skill again…earlier in the year.

I also need to teach more skills this way…through real-world tasks.  My students have had a hard time connecting the importance of these skills with FCAT, where they won’t be asked to “create a rubric.”  That may be the case, but they will be asked to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information…skills they practiced during the creation of the rubric.


You Got a Man Helping You With That?

Oh, how I love teaching…mainly for the holidays I don’t have to work on, don’t ya know.


Such was the case on Monday, so I took advantage of the gift of time and ran some errands.

One of the things I needed to do was fix my kitchen faucet.  I’d noticed that the water was dripping after I turned it off.

This is one of my biggest pet peeves.

The problem was that I couldn’t get the water on the sink turned off because I use the sink a lot at night.  With the Mr. working and Rooster in class, I had the perfect opportunity.

The first task was to remove the handle, which involved popping out the red/blue tab and unscrewing the itsy bitsy screw holding it down…

Then, I pulled out the spring things from the holes on the left and right (that’s where the water comes out) so I could take them with me to Home Depot.  These things come in different sizes, so you have to get the right ones!

I’d rummaged through the tool box and found what I thought was the packaging from the last set of springs I’d purchased.  Off I went to Home Depot!

This is where the fun began.

An older gentleman was shopping in the same aisle, and as he approached me, he asked, “Fixing a sink?”

“Yes sir,” I said.

He walked away but returned a moment later to get something off of the shelf.

I was still looking, unable to find exactly what I needed.

He returned again and asked, “You got a man helping you with that?”

I had to chuckle as I said, “Nope.  I’m fixing it myself.  I do all of the DIY projects in my house.”

He smiled and said, “Well, good for you!” and walked away.

About that time, I saw a Home Depot employee, and he was kind enough to open a package so we could compare spring and seat sizes.

Before I walked away, he said, “You got a man helping you with that repair?”

Sigh.  If people only knew.

“Nope,” I said.  “I fix everything in my house.”

You should have seen the look on his face as I turned away and proudly walked to the self-checkout register and left.

I got the seats and springs back into place with no trouble whatsoever (it was a good day) and proceeded with my day!

I’ve never been one to wait for a man to help me with things.  This is one of the few lessons I learned from my mom.

Being mostly self-sufficient is something I pride myself on.

A Cool Hodgepodge

Hola fellow Hodgepodgers!  I hope you’re having a lovely week!  I’m enjoying the delayed start, with the holiday we had on Monday.  That means a four-day work week, which nobody can complain about, eh?  Let’s get to Joyce’s fun questions!

1.  What’s the biggest change since your childhood in the way people think or act?

I think we live in an age when many more things have become permissible and accepted.  Our morals continue to decline, and we see things on TV and in public that we never would have seen in the 70’s and 80’s, when I was growing up.  The sexual lyrics in music, and the foul language and overt sexual stuff in television and movies make it difficult to enjoy much in the way of media.  I simply refuse to spend my money or give my attention to such garbage.  Even mainstream magazines join in.  I just received my weekly issue of Sports Illustrated and was extremely disappointed by the front cover…half-naked rear ends.  I usually take my magazines into my classroom for students to look at because of the informational text; however, I will not be taking this issue.  It’s going straight to the garbage.

The bad thing is that having a conservative view is seen by many people as being intolerant.  I’m not quite sure when having morals and believing in the Bible became “intolerant.”  It’s disappointing and disheartening.

2.  The Olympic Biathlon involves cross country skiing broken up with either two or four rounds of target shooting. Which part of that would stress you out more? Or would you love them both equally?

I think the target shooting would stress me out the most because my aim is not very good, nor is my eye-hand coordination.

3.  February is National Canned Food Month…what is your most often purchased canned food item?  What was in the last can you opened?

I most often open canned tomatoes.  Being a vegan, I cook with tomatoes constantly.  I opened a few cans of them last week when I made a tomato-artichoke spaghetti dinner.  Yum!

4.  What river (anywhere in the world) would you most like to cruise?

I’ve never really given rivers much thought, preferring to keep my feet on solid ground; however, after a quick Google search, I think I’d like to travel down the Nile.  I’ve read so much about it in the Bible, so to get to see the part of world in which civilization was born would be a tremendous experience.

5.  It’s the middle of the night and you can’t sleep…what do you do? Count sheep? Toss and turn? Watch television? Or do you get up and do something productive?

I rarely have trouble sleeping, but on the few nights when I’ve been unable to sleep, I’ve found myself getting up and jumping on the computer to be the thing I do.  I will usually work on lesson plans or do some blogging in the wee hours when sleep eludes me.

6.  How important is keeping your cool?

Oh goodness, but as a teacher, keeping my cool is vitally important.  It’s also extremely challenging.  Not only do I face sixty different personalities each day, I find myself struggling for composure in the midst of a very stressful load…that of helping my students pass our state reading assessment…a requirement for graduation.  My students often think I’m in a bad mood when, in reality, I’m thinking of all of the things we need to accomplish…things that weigh heavily on my mind.  This makes keeping my cool difficult.  But I do my best, knowing that I need to model self control for my students who are trying to mature and seeking good role models in the process.

7.  I’ve got white stuff on the brain so why not run with it? White lie, wave the white flag, white knuckle it, white wash a situation, or white as a sheet…which phrase could most recently apply to your own life in some way?

I’m currently white-knuckling it with the demands of my job.  On Tuesday, my students will be taking FCAT Writes, the state writing assessment administered to 4th, 8th, and 10th graders.  Teaching writing and reading this year has been hard.  I love to write (a big DUH there), and I love teaching it, but being responsible for my students passing TWO state assessments is incredibly stressful and makes me feel as though I’m on some sort of white water rafting adventure.

8.  My Random Thought

I’ve been reading my way through the I am Number 4 book series.  Although I didn’t like the author’s style in the first book (it was a bit juvenile), I kept at it and just finished the fourth book.  A student originally recommended this series to me after he read the first book.  I wound up buying the entire set for my classroom.  Then, I discovered two novellas, which I also purchased.

They arrived on Monday, and when I took them into school on Tuesday, you should have seen the look on my students’ faces.  I say “students” because after seeing me read one of the books, a student in a different class (not the student who originally recommended the books to me) began reading them.  He read through the first three books quickly and was chomping at the bit to get book #4, which I was just about finished reading.  When I handed him one of the novellas, his eyes lit up, and he read it during silent reading time that day.  I wish you could have heard him holler, “Oh man, this is WILD!”  I guess I’ll be reading these later.

Hermione’s Everyday Socks

On Saturday, I finished another project.

These are Hermione’s Everyday Socks.  The pattern is free on Ravelry.

The yarn is Austermann Step.  I don’t know the colorway because I lost the label.  It’s probably been in my stash a long time, which is why I’m thankful for the Harry Potter Knit/Crochet House Cup, which is giving me a reason to knit often and from my stash.

I selected this pattern because it looked easy.  I needed something quick to knit because I have a goal of knitting up to three projects that total 750 yards.  I’m trying for extra bonus Quidditch points.

This project used 390 yards!

The yarn is self-striping.  I desperately wanted to make each sock match and pulled out a bunch to try to get to the same starting point for sock #2.  I think I accomplished what I wanted.  They are pretty much dead-on.

I used size 0 needles…oh so small but necessary for my loose gauge.  I knit these using my favorite method…two circs.  If you’re not familiar with this, Google it.  It’s the quickest way to knit things in the round.

The yarn was not soft and a bit itchy to knit with; however, when I have the socks on, my feet are toasty warm, and I don’t notice an itchy feel to the socks.

In case you’re wondering, I am the sock model.  I took my camera outside, set it on two books, turned on the timer, and ran back and forth to set up each shot.  I’m sure I was quite the sight.

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