In this week's episode I am joined by a very special guest, Sharna Dawson. Sharna has a very extensive 20 year career in education, working as a PDHPE teacher before completing a graduate certificate in career development and creating the most amazing programme across New South Wales delivering career based skill and knowledge to students.

Today, Sharna is going to unpack what you can do to get the right kids into the CAFS course and keep them there. She's also going to dive into some common myths around CAFS what you can do to really capture the students that you want and build that sense of community & passion in your course!

We also chat about the IRP, which is a very small part of our CAFS course that often also adds a lot of unnecessary stress & creates so much extra marking. It doesn't have to be like that & I can show you how in my Strategic Approaches to the IRP course, which has helped over 250 CAFS teachers across NSW facilitate the IRP successfully without sacrificing their time and wellbeing.

Check out Strategic Approaches to the IRP

Show Notes 

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Since 2004 I have been teaching PDHPE and Community & Family Studies. I love learning. It lights me up. I am so passionate about supporting you to be the best educator you can be.

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Show Transcription


Episode Intro - Kelly:

Hey everyone. Welcome back to the Learning Network podcast. This is episode number 33. Today we're going to chat to our special guest, Sharna Dawson.Sharna is going to unpack what you can do to get the kids into our CAFS course and the right ones and keep them there. She's also going to unpack some common myths around community Family Studies and what you can do as a CAFS teacher, as a test teacher as a PDHPE teacher, to really capture the students that you want and build that in your course. Shana has a very extensive career in education working 20 years. Eight of those as a PD H PE teacher and then she retrained and completed a degree in Japanese she found which was really passionate about was working with students who discover their careers and completed graduate certificate and career development. Working with a full time careers advisor at a school of 1400 students, they will always chasing their tail. Every turn they had the best intentions they will plan for as much as I could. But with so many students, they couldn't help everyone and this annoyed Shana. She was seeing students who were too scared to call an employer. They didn't know how to dress and when missing out on crucial opportunities that she wanted to give students information on how to be job ready, access amazing courses and be confident when they chose to enter. Shana has created the most amazing programme across New South Wales delivering this type of skill and knowledge to students. And she also offers an online course for our students to help them be best prepared for their career and also support time poor careers advisors. What I love in today's conversation we Sharna is where we speak about the IRP. Because it's one thing that turns kids off, they think it's the PIP. The IRP is not a personal interest project. It is a very small part of our community Family Studies course. And I'm going to kind of guessed that it often also adds a lot of stress to our teachers doesn't protect their time, it creates so much extra marking, but it doesn't have to be like that. Now, if you're listening to this live, I have current doors open to my strategic approaches to the IRP course, which has seen over 250 CAFS teachers all across New South Wales completed to help you facilitate the IRP successfully without sacrificing your time and will be in the process. And if you'd love to be part of this current cohort, head over to the forward slash IRP. And you can register there or if you have any questions about the course.


Podcast Intro - Kelly:

Hey, I'm Kelly Bell. Welcome to The Learning Network Podcast. I guide Community and Family Studies teachers, newbies and experienced, through best practice to improve knowledge, increase empowerment and alleviate stress, to help you and your students to make meaningful connections across the course. I will share strategic and purposeful applications from my 16 years experience in the classroom that I have adopted to increase student motivation, enjoyment, engagement and results. Together, we will grow and transform your CAFS crew to the next level without impacting your sleep and wellbeing process. To join my free how to improve writing and fast track results webinar, head to So tune in, get inspired and let's connect, learn and grow together. 


Kelly - Hey, everyone, you've heard Sharna's official bio or around the legend. As you've heard, Sharna is the director of edge workshops and she travels around all around New South Wales supporting students in their career pathways and provides really dynamic workshops with them. So Shanna has also had extensive experience in careers so she knows and has heard probably every single conversation our students have with us around subjects selection. So thanks for joining me, Shanna,

Sharna - Thank you for having me.

Kelly - My pleasure. All right. So let's get into it. What type of student should choose CAFS?

Sharna - Okay, so typically for subjects selection when kids come in to have a look at CAFS, I would really recommend kids who are keen, who are interested in, in a job around community services around work going in the police force, want to do youth work anything because it's such a broad subject. I really target kids around this to say, hey, there's so many pathways and you need to understand in any job, how things work as far as communities go as far as families operate, society, and this is the perfect subject that can actually help you in your future. So I really push CAFS as a generalist subject but kids who are really you know, linked with other subjects at work as well. But CAFS is just a fantastic all round subject for a lot of students, because you can do really well in it.

Kelly - Awesome. So I think you know, after teaching it for the best part of 16 years, I would literally say that variety of kids is so different. So highfliers kids who often struggle to write kids who want to be at school, some even that don't want to are looking at kind of leaving a note does capture a whole heap of kids. I think that's what a lot of schools struggle with. Because there is such a broad range of students in your class who then go, Okay, well, if we want our kids to get really good results, we actually have to work work with a whole big group of kids. But I think that's the special part about CAFS because it does capture, you know, kids who are really keen to be at school or kids who want to do well and a really good writers and you know, might be doing extension English or modern and, you know, pays well but then also the kids who really struggle maybe doing exploring an SLR and possibly even contemplating leaving school.

Sharna - It really captures a whole range of kids like you just said, and plus, I just I feel like CAFS teachers have the ability to, you know, differentiate and and able to cater to those kids and they don't feel uncomfortable. So I can't send a kid into physics. That would be you know, as you know, looked after as they would be in CAFS. So, like you said, there's kids that are transitioning that are coming out of out that want to go into the workforce. I still say you're going into CAFS is a great option for them because they need to have an understanding of how society functions anyway. And even if they come from, you know, a fantastic background, they need to know how reality is and you're going to work places you're going to work with so many different people. And CAFS is a perfect is a perfect subject for that. So you know, I really encourage as many kids as possible. Plus, it's really engaging, you know, if it's obviously taught well, and it's you know, it's fantastic for the kids, and it's not super hard. It's not difficult. So I think so many kids can do well at whatever level that they're at.

Kelly - Yeah, I think being a teacher, especially at a senior campus, often we would have teachers thrown into our class. But you know, I didn't mind that because I think we'll you know, I'm just gonna welcome everyone because everyone is welcome. And let's not judge people and cater to have to change your teaching. You can't just go I'm just going to, you know, teach at the top you have to differentiate like you said.

Sharna - Yeah, and I found that, you know, sometimes teachers would feel it they go we're not a dumping ground. Yeah. And that's where you feel like you get the kids who have come in and but you know what, as a as an, you know, if you're an engaging teacher, you can engage anybody, whether that's the kids that are looking to leave that have problems or your high end kids as well, it's just CAFS has the ability to do that. So I think the more that we build that up even as former pte as PHP teachers, CAFS is just the way to go subject that can help everybody. 

Kelly - Yeah. Awesome. Okay, the second question for you is around what subjects kind of work well, with CAFS, we kind of alluded to, you know, a whole range of abilities in our class. What would you suggest for teachers or even students to kind of guide them in that pathway of choosing subjects?

Sharna - Every kid that comes in I would say, you know, we typically look at the pattern, someone who's done CAFS usually does php. And even if they, you know, they'd be okay to do both. Yeah, 100% they complement each other. You know, you're crazy not to do that because they actually cross you know, this sections where they anything they learn in PDH. And all their options that they're going to do, can go across, you know, especially, you know, indigenous health, there's so many units that can go across, it's only going to further enhance them. If kids can write I definitely push them towards CAFS, because it's a subject that I find you know that kids who write do really well in but again, saying that, I would like also push the kids who do nursing so you're Yvette students. So if you have a vet at your school, where that's an option, whether you're 11 you twelves can go do a course for free on top of their subjects. I push nursing kids if you're gonna, there's only limited subjects they can do at school.

So if they're going to do it, make sure that they do CAFS as one of their subjects, because it really helps their nursing. So I have students who do that all the time. They're like I'm so glad I kept CAFS. Typically they'll, you know, do things they like. But you know CAFS is quite enjoyable because it's relatable, relatable to what they're doing. Anything you know, society and culture is another one that works really well with CAFS, that crosses again. However, my only concern with that is the is the research project, the IRP that they have to do, and plus the PIP that they have to do in in CASP. But again, you know, if the teacher How they coordinate that that's entirely different.

Kelly - Yeah, and a lot of my listeners have done my course which shows them a more strategic way to actually do the IRP rather than back in the old life management days where it was like two and a half 1000 words, and it was this bound document and kids like would freak out about it. Yes, most of what a lot of schools now have it as like a teacher facilitator process where they have working small research teams to kind of go okay, well, you guys are in charge of interviews. You guys are in charge of doing the questionnaires. Let's bring all of our research together. We don't have to actually do every single part. We don't have to mark every single part. So it's a lot less kind of burdensome on the kids and they go okay, well, I can do all my work for CAFS. In class, my pitch is a bit different. It is this big, massive thing that gets assessed by an SR. But for us in CAFS as CAFS teachers, they mark it. So I think I know, you know, over the last 16 years, I've had lots of kids to do do both CAFS and PE and go and really study and go Well, I can manage it because it kind of relates to each other and has that you know, those research terms and stuff?

Sharna - Yeah, the fact that if he can take the stress off. So that's that's a huge point. When kids coming to us, and they're looking to drop subjects. It's around the stress that the subject creates. And I'm still at schools in here and kids, we have teachers who aren't, you know, working with the kids and splitting, you know, everything up. It's, it's the kids who are coming into us going, I can't manage society, and I can't do the cast because it's not structured properly by the teachers. So if you guys can do that, that's gonna be huge, you know, advant advantage to keep your own kids in the subject and promoted to other kids as well, even from other schools. They'll talk amongst themselves and say my schools doing this, my schools doing that. And you know, CAFS is usually one that gets dropped if it's not managed properly. So that's why, you know, society is a great subject. PDH PE, to be honest, so many different ones work with it. And it's just an engaging all round subject that's going to help them in life. Not many subjects in the HSC get to do that.

Kelly - No, I agree. And I think we always say CAFS is life because we say it has so much like we love it. But also it has so many good connections to everything else. And I think it probably wasn't until I worked at the Sony campus that I had quite a few of my girls do Aboriginal Studies. And I'm like, hang on, there's a groups in context part that we can actually choose. I mean, then made that one of our groups we kind of looked at a lot of I suppose the kids in our class would go, Well, who does PE we can have that crossover with? You know, like you said, the hill stuff is PE that's mandatory anyway. All right. We've got kids who are doing Aboriginal Studies use their knowledge, because I didn't know the course. But they brought their knowledge in for legislation stuff. Yeah. And then let's do our groups in context on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We also had quite a few kids do studies of religion as well. So then they kind of brought that kind of knowledge around, you know, Aboriginal spirituality and that type of thing.

Sharna - Yeah, and Aboriginal Studies is a great one. I fortunately, I've been in schools where there's been a lot of interest, but not, it's never had enough numbers to run. But yeah, I mean, it's just, it's got so much strength in the subjects itself. So you'd be crazy not to sort of really push it to those kids. And you know what, in subjects selections, people target all sorts of subjects target, you know, the kids because you know, you want your ideal kid, but so many of you can have such a really cool cross section, and target pretty much a whole year group and, you know, show things that you can tailor towards for each of those kids to see what they're interested in. So I think CAFS is a really well rounded subject that can do that.

Kelly - Yeah. And I think I think even Business Studies is a good one to look at society and how things work. And I know, in Sydney when I was, you know, Blacktown, so we had one year we had literally 90% of our cohort do CAFS, and there were kids who couldn't speak English came from really, you know, tribal backgrounds to kids who were like literally the data, the school, we had that big, you know, broad spectrum. I think we even had a big group of kids to like we're doing visual arts, but I think it doesn't matter. Like for me, I don't think it matters what subjects you're kind of choosing around that it's about the kids and it's about maximising what, you know, how you can help them but also for them to get really good results. And I think, you know, CAFS is one of the things that if kids do well, they're gonna get good results in activities related to life.

Sharna - Yeah. And it does come down to the engagement of the teacher, it doesn't matter. You know, everyone has to teach the same content, but it's how you deliver it. And that's what will keep the numbers in your class. And so many times, you know, unfortunately, sometimes, in the schools, I've seen that the kids are like, got to drop out of CAFS because it was done in booklets. It was not engaging. The teacher was hardly there. And these are brilliant kids that they've just lost. So the more that you can cater for so many different kids, it's just going to have such growth within your own school. So you're crazy not to.

Kelly - And you want that, and I think that's part of our our thing at Nagle we had. When I first started there, you know, fresh face 20 something year old came in, got given the, like the opportunity to teach us a new class straightaway. Yeah. Well, you teach CAFS? Yep. Awesome, loved it. And then we built it. From there. We had one class to two and then we eventually had four classes and we built the PHP faculty or you know, if you're Tez faculty, you can build your faculty with CAFS with food tech and yeah, you know, or PDH and all those kinds of subjects. You want it. You don't want to kids to drop your course. No, you want to try to keep them as much as you can.

Sharna - Yeah, I think there's nothing sadder when the kids decide to opt out. And I'll be as a careers advisor, we're not the ones that go yep, we will talk them, you know, through it. You know, and especially with a PHP background, you know, a lot of careers advisors are, so we see the value in CAFS, so we will do everything to encourage them to keep it and even look at other subjects that they might not be doing well in because we know that it caters for so many kids and they can do well in here.

Kelly - And I think we weren't going to talk about these but I think that is often what happens. I know I've had kids in both PE and CAFS. They literally come in the top five. They're getting the in the 90s. Yeah. And their parents or the school even if he's saying to. You should drop CAFS and pick up extension one oh no pick up, you know, whatever. Whatever other. Yes. And you're like, oh, physics, you're struggling physics. Yeah, keep physics because that's going to scale well, I think, look know, if you're getting a 90 and 80 and CAFS it's much better than getting a 40 or 50 in physics.

Sharna - Oh 100%, and the scaling is is probably the one of the worst conversations when kids come in and they they look at subjects purely to scale. Whatever kids do, if they do well at it, you know, yes, there's difficult subjects. Yes, sometimes they're rewarded, but you really still have to do really well. In order to receive a decent mark. You can't just turn up and write your name on any paper, whether it's physics, you know, extension, they're just they're not going to hit the mark. So, you know, kids who write well, kids who are engaged in any subject are going to going to do well, and I see so many patterns of study where they do, you know, a vet course or do hospitality and get in the 90s and they've done CAFS, you know, I think the more that we push that and you use even X students as examples, and show their marks of what can be done. That's the way to go.

Kelly - Yeah, I look I try to I've had these conversations with my CAFS teachers in my membership and other conversations with kids. I reckon over 16 years of having CAFS as you know, every back to back. I think probably maybe half of the kids I've taught maybe not me personally, but they've had CAFS as their pattern of study, and sometimes that visual arts biology PE Foodtech hospo. Like you said, yeah, there still would have been, you know, you've got bent sixes in those quarters and have been in the 90s. And being the doctor the school. Yeah, so I think schools and I think maybe even leaders, principals, exactly, to have a good look at some of those subjects.

Sharna - It's very underrated. And I just think as CAFS teachers you need to be out there as a collective and really shouting it and you know, putting putting these stats up in front of your principles and your executive team, because CAFS and you know, there's so many subjects that are sort of not looked upon, as you know, something that's incredible or amazing, but really, it's it's crazy the results that they can get and you just need to push that and just be the voice the loudest voice in the school and results is how you do it.

Kelly - Yeah, I've got a teacher who I mentored last year. She's gone from coed school in Sydney to an all boys school and she's like, I want CAFS at the school. My good luck, Jess. Yeah. Anyway, she, she fought for it. She got it up. They had 13 kids choose it as number one that she told me the other day, it's looking at about 60 boys. That's amazing. CAFS Mike, that is amazing. That just shows that that if you open the kids minds up to what it's really like, yeah, and the variety and the skills they'll get from it is so good. It's yeah, I think for some for them.

Sharna - For a long time, it was seen as a male as a female subject. And that's just not that's not the case. And so the more that, you know, schools like that, you know, step forward and have the guys achieve them, you know, so good, and they need to step up and take note of that.

Kelly - Yeah, I think even Yeah, a lot of young male PE teachers are often given CAFS this elusive, you know, other stage X PHP class. Yeah. So a lot of young male PE teachers are given the opportunity to teach seniors but they've given CAFS a lot of them have, you know, don't have much idea or don't know where to start. Like, I've got, I think five, five or six boys males in my membership. Now I think that's so good to see that. That you know, there's a whole new group of CAFS teachers who are keen, who are you know, really passionate about our course. I'd love for that to kind of flirt with the boys actually. Yeah, of course, but hopefully We'll get there, I think.

Sharna - And the more that they you have young ones coming through young teachers coming through that. And, you know, as bad as it sounds, sometimes it gives them some credit. It gives us subject more credibility and get the boys through and, you know, and they can see what we've been saying for ages that yes, you can do really well. And even if there is a male face in front of it, it doesn't really matter. So it's like, let's just promote CAFS for what it is, and get kids to good marks and, you know, stick it to physics and chemistry which which typically a male dominated Yeah, but the kids don't do well in and so you know, not all kids do well in it and it has such a high dropout rate and only a small amount of kids, you know, do really well at it or need it but it's just an ego thing. So if you can get past the ego thing and let's put them in a CAFS and kill it.

Kelly - It's funny to talk about that one of the same girls said they sometimes we go and say "drop maths pick CAFS."

Sharna - Oh, I love that. "Drop maths pick CAFS," that's so good. 

Kelly - That was her little slogan, I was like oh that's a good one Jess. All right. So talking about promoting CAFS and PDHPE. What sort of things should teachers be doing? In a practical kind of sense to promote the course of course, like, promote from within? That's what I've been saying to my teachers promote from within your faculty from in your classes?  Can you give anyone else like other tips.

Sharna - Yeah, I'd definitely be getting like, you know, to target Year 10s. At subject selection. It's all about sales, right? So it's got to be when you're giving these these pitches, kids typically go for teachers who are engaging and people who can sell it now, why I would because CAFS is such a broad subject I would bring in here's an idea I'd bring in industry people from all different walks of life to talk about, you know, what they do and then I would show it how it links within their syllabus to say all of these people are part of our community yet, you know, as a subject you get to understand about this you get to know how they engage, like bring industry and bring X students in, like make it a show. So students you know as I know, we're all about numbers but you have to it's a really cool sales pitch. And if you're not selling every other subject is and that's what it comes as it gets quite competitive and as crucify us as we say we're the only unbiased people in the in the schools because you know, we'll tell you like it is, but I just feel CAFS teachers you need to you know, I don't know if you get a crew together, you get some shirts going. You know, I love that shirt. Yeah CAFS crew shirts, you know, kill mass, whatever you want to do, you know pick us and start pushing your campaign way earlier. You know, don't wait for them to announce subjects selection because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter to the exec it matters to your your faculty and what you can get and like do a CAFS day, feature them in your PHP class. Get them in like you know, do stuff on your if you have a Facebook page for PE or whatever faculty you're in or school thing start and push it on there. Why CAFS is so great like we can all edit stuff on our phone. You'd be crazy not to push stuff about CAFS, you know and who cares if it makes every subject look bad. I wouldn't care. Yeah, I'd be out there promoting and wearing shirts and like put it do handout Fritos, whatever you've got to do to attract the kids in so you can have those conversations about CAFS.

Kelly - Yeah, I think, for us at Nagel, especially, we would talk about it in your seven like posters up or just class work and talk about, you know, some poster on this. What's that? Oh, that's, you know, CAFS. CAFS is our one of our senior courses. Or even have my senior students in there. If juniors were coming in, that would that was just you know, are you living class so we're doing this in there so bring those conversations in early, so the juniors can be like, ah, CAFS is cut on Mrs. Bill. She teaches CAFS or this is what they learn in CAFS. So, I think I think CAFS the acronym has really lost the value of community and family studies, which is a real shame. Yeah, we used to call it CFS in the Catholic system. And then you know, when I started doing doing a few things that public system like okay, it's called CAFS, but I think that's why it has that name for not being I don't know. Anyway. Okay to finish off what sort of career pathways are good for CAFS students so if we have students who are saying I'm going to choose a subject that's going to help me later on not that all of our subjects do do that? What is some kind of guidance here again?

Sharna - So if you look at I'm sure you guys have heard of like your have websites run by career tools. So if you have a look at your, your, your own careers pages at school, or if you don't have it, just Google go to my future. So my calliper all the links later. So doing different stuff, you know, you have those, those target the bull's eyes, and at each level of the bullseye, as you get further out, it requires more education. But what you need to have these posters are, you can download them for free, print them out at your school, and put them in colour and put them everywhere around. So I'll give it to the kids so they can see these pathways. So they can see that their subject, you know, equates to real life.

So I'll give you an example. stuff at the level one. So remember, that's like the inner circle where I don't need much called many qualifications to do it. age or disability care worker, child care aide and be a work, I can work in family daycare, I can be a nanny, a prison officer, actually something I want to do, I reckon that'd be really cool. A teacher's aide and like level to a civil celebrant. Now kids would be like, What the hell's that? What obviously, when you're going to get married, stuff like that, you know, you can get registered, this has been part of the community, you know, a diversional therapist, this is a really cool job that you can go and do, and work in aged care and run bingo games, and oh, my god, that'd be amazing. You get cups of tea all the time. A dog handler, a community worker, youth worker, a probation officer, and then working up to even careers like careers is like your level force. Obviously, you need your training for that. A genetic counsellor, drug and alcohol counsellor, ministers of religion, occupational therapist, all these courses that are really cool that your kids can interact with the link. So for example, if I click on recreation advisor, it will take me to the description of the have the recreation officer, and I'll tell me what's available and how I get that. So it'll say, these are your qualifications. This is how you can go about it. This is how much they earn. So even that within itself is a really cool lesson. Even at the start to go, Hey, this is what CAFS is, this is actually means to community services.

And it links brilliantly with the TAFE course of community services. So that's a really amazing option for them. If your kids like your subject, and they want to transition into TAFE, that's a perfect thing. And then they'll go do work placement. So you can end up being a social worker or support officer at a school earning amazing money. So whatever they can do, your kids whatever level they're at, they can see all the different ranges of careers that they can do. So it's pretty cool.

Kelly - And I think different pathways for the kids, like you said, ranging from a nanny or babysitter childcare worker to you know, working for the government, you know, policing, politics, nursing, psychologist, ot physio it's, I mean, physio is probably more to do with PE but there's so much that is captured in our course. And I would really love for that course to kind of, I suppose be maybe more called called Community family studies because it is these about that it is about working in the community and working with people. Thank you so much, Anna, today on the Moneyweb podcast. So I've developed quite a few different tools for teachers to help promote CAFS at their school so teachers can head over to the forward slash promote CAFS, and there's posters and downloads and you know some things about knowledge and skills that kids need but the exam and career pathways, that type of thing. But if teachers want to reach out to you and be involved in your careers, workshops, how can I Where can I find you? 

Sharna - Yeah, so I have the edge workshops but you can find me on Instagram at Shana underscore Dawson so Shana sh ar e and Dawson da W SLN. Like the creek for all the old people that are in the room, Dawson's Creek. So Shana Dawson and I also do a lot of stuff with Korea's teacher. So feel free to have a look at the stuff at what we do. But we also do work around individual classes. And yeah, we have fun and we're in 144 schools at the moment. So we might be coming to your school and I'd love for you to come and say go hey!

Kelly on Strategic Approaches to the IRP:

If you'd like to get the right kids into your course, build on those numbers and alleviate the stress that your kids experiencing Community and Family Studies. I'd love for you to check out Strategic Approaches to the IRP. Strategic Approaches to the IRP has had over 250 CAFS teachers take this course across New South Wales over the last two and a half years only, so it's continuing to build. The transformation that you'll see in your CAFS journey, in your CAFS classroom and with your kids is going to be amazing. The tools, the templates, the resources, the activities and what you can do to set your kids up for success for Research Methodology is in the course, it's jam packed, eight modules, templates everything you need to successfully facilitate this IRP Finally, it is now time to do it. Today's a day so head over to the Ford slash IRP to check it out. And I'd love for you to join us inside strategic approaches to the IRP.


Thanks for joining The Learning Network, I'd love to hear what connected with you most about today's episode. Take a screenshot and tag me on Instagram and Facebook, @thelearnnet. If you'd like to know more about my courses, MasterClasses, Coaching and Mentoring and Membership, you can DM me over on Facebook or Instagram or head to Don't forget to stay connected by subscribing to Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and if you love today's episode, I would be so honoured if you could please leave me a review. See you again next week. Let's continue to connect, grow and learn together to make a huge impact on the students we teach. 

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