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The New School of Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)

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Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > Preschools & Daycare > The New School of Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)



Oct 2013

Re: Play play play!! Is there a school?
If you want a true play based program without the direction you noted in your post, I highly recommend The New School. If you want academics, this is not the place. But if you want a place where kids get really messy, are only directed away from activities that are unsafe or unkind, then this is the place. There are so many fun things to do at New School--lots of water play, huge sand box, lots of dress-up, art galore. And if your kid just wants to play in the sand or play Legos for 3 hours because he/she is working out a problem, this is the place for you. Its not small, but in the 2s program they are kept separated from the bigger kids (3s/4s) for most of the day. For parents, it can seem like chaos, but for kids it is a safe and organized chaos that helps kids to play at their own pace. Love the Play at New School


Sept 2013

Hello, I was wondering if anyone can share reviews for the New School of Berkeley. I really like what they offer from reading their website, but they aren't accepting any tours until November. Since other school has waiting lists for next summer/fall, I have to make a decision very soon. I would love to hear some recent feedbacks! Thank you Preschool searching mom


We've been going to the New School for over a year now and are very happy with it. We like the fact that the children get to spend a lot of time outdoors, with plants, with the school rabbits and vegetable gardens on walks around the neighborhood, to local parks; that despite the seemingly ''lack of structure'' days are actually very well-structured, that our child is exposed to life and can learn about being part of a community. We find the teachers and staff are very approachable should parents have a question, a concern or simply when they want to go and talk to their kid's tutor. We like the fact that all members of staff know every single child and parent by name. For us, this is important, it means they take each family as seriously as the next one. I guess I could go on about the activities they do, but for that you've got their website. Good luck with your search. New School happy parents
Sept 2012

Re: Seeking preschool compatible with BUSD schedule
Check out The New School of Berkeley (www.newschoolberkeley.org/).

Its schedule is based on BUSD's, with the added bonus that it's open during BUSD one-day holidays (Malcolm X Day...) and BUSD spring break. The only days it's closed when BUSD schools are open are the Friday before Memorial Day (for the annual New School family camping trip to Mendocino, which is awesome) and a few days around the time BUSD schools start in late August.

Plus, New School is around the corner from Berkeley Arts Magnet BUSD elementary school, and it offers before- and after-school care for elementary-age kids. Both my kids, who go/went to BAM, went to New School from preschool (ages 2/3) through elementary-school after-school care (ages 6-10). Robin


August 2011

Re: Looking for a small preschool for 2-year-old
The New School at BFUU, Cedar and Bonita in North Berkeley is awesome! They start at 2 yrs old. My stepdaughter has been there for years now, and is now ''a Four'' (the group of 4 year olds). Creative program, a lot of fun, really great staff. Good luck! I'm pretty sure kids can start any time. Azzia


Oct 2010

Re: Looking for after-school care in N. Berkeley
Hi Angela, I recently heard that The New School of Berkeley (www.newschoolberkeley.org) has afterschool openings. It's been a month since we started our son in their full-time daycare program (now full), and so far we're very happy with the caring and energetic staff. It's also conveniently located (Cedar and Bonita) and reasonably priced. Good luck! Anna


Sept 2009

Most of the reviews of the New School are older. Does anyone have any current experiences? I'm interested in their program, but worried that my shy reserved child will be lost without clear structure and direction. curious about new school


A year ago, I was desperately searching for a preschool program for my newly adopted child with some specia; needs. I called so many programs, and was met by the same refrain ''we'd like to help, but...'' The irony is, I work as an education advocate for disability rights, so I knew that technically, they could NOT discriminate. But who wants to start out a new relationship with a preschool in a confrontational way? Then I called New School. They listened, then said ''we can try''. They did more than try. The staff treated my child with respect and love, protected her dignity and privacy, helped her return after a major neurosurgery...she did so well there that the psychologist who came out to observe her said ''this is exactly what a preschool program should be''. A core of long term, committed teachers, who are flexible, loving and creative. The school works hard to create a sense of community, with parent volunteers, an annual camping trip to Mendocino, and two fundraisers to make sure the school's diversity is protected through financial aid to families who otherwise couldn't attend. My child is thriving there, and while it IS loosely structured, there is a lot of underlying structure and routine, and an emphasis on self advocacy, and allowing children to PLAY! Kids can be inside or outside a lot of the day, and older children who don't nap are accomodated. there is kindergym, capoiera, west african drumming, lots of field trips and pets. I appreciate the school, and consider it my child's second family and a source of parenting support for me. Bri's Mommy
New School is a fantastic preschool which nurtures creativity, encourages a child's natural curiosity, allows them to be themselves in a caring, loving environment. There are rules, there is structure, there is direction, but it is definitely not for every child. My son is a wild and crazy free spirit and he is absolutely thriving there, but I don't think it would be an ideal place for a child that is shy and reserved. Of course, there's really no way to know for sure unless you try it, but this has always been my opinion, in thinking of my older child who is also shy and reserved (he didn't go there, though so I can't say for sure). Happy New School parent
My child is also shy and cautious. She's been at New School for about a year and a half now. I did, initially, worry that she might get lost without the structure and strong social oversight some other schools offer, but I loved the outdoor space, the creative focus and the vibe of the place--the children are giggling, running, making art together--and we decided to give it a try. She has really blossomed socially since she's been there. She is still cautious--that is her personality--but her experiences at New School have helped her to develop social skills that get her past that shyness. She is able to go up to other kids, even complete strangers, and initiate play or conversation now. The teachers have been very caring toward her and seem to have a lot of respect for her as a person, which I think is great. good luck
Feb 2009

Re: preschool for 2-year-old that follows a school year calendar
New School in Berkeley fits both of these requirements. It follows the Berkeley school calendar exactly, is full day and starts at age 2. My son attends and we have found it to be a perfect fit. the prices is much more reasonable than most. It doesn't have an academic curriculum, but the teachers do work on a veriety of school readiness skills and lots of art and music and capoeira and field trips. it is a great school for us and could be for you. a pleased New School Parent


Feb 2008

I am considering sending my active three-year old to New School in Berkeley for pre-school. I'm intereseted in recent reviews. Any problems or concerns of current parents? Did you experience any problems with the transition to kindergarten? Is there too much focus on play? Anything I should know? I was pleased with the facilities, the director, and the staff at the tour. The kids were jumping in puddles when we arrived so my son obviously wants to go there! Thanks in advance. hannie


As a current New School of Berkeley Parent--I have to say I couldn't be happier with the school. My son is in the two's program and is there full day so we experience all aspects of the day. Yes, the approach is hand's off, and often walking around it can seem a bit chaotic, but don't ever think that means that the kids are ignored or are ''running the show.'' This is NOT the Lord of the Flies Preschool in any way.

The school day is extremely organized. For example, the two's start their day in their room with just twos, and move into different settings and situations as the number of kids change with part timers going home and the older kid's after school program beginning. To move all these kids through those changes requires very clear and consistent directions. My kid has learned about cleaning up and putting things away, when certain rooms are ''off limits'' because there are no teachers and other important aspects that are part of keeping kids safe and making a day work well.

The teachers are extremely caring of kids of all personality types--from the ones that need to be literally held all day for weeks until they get used to the school to the ones that are individuals and comfortable and but who need to learn to play well with others. Each child is celebrated as they are and helped to move through their fears and foibles in a caring manner. Shy kids do not get lost. The philosophy of letting kids work it out never means there isn't a teacher right there about to step in if the little kid's social skills aren't yet up to snuff. As someone who got kicked out of our Nanny share because the nanny couldn't deal with my rambunctious kid, New School is a joy because they take his energy in stride and really are turning him into a caring and community aware little boy.

It can be surprising in the summer time to have walked in and, upon being greeted by crowds of naked kids or boys and girls dressed in pink tutus--I've wondered if wemd accidentally sent my kid to the school in the West Village where Auntie Mame sent Patrick. But to me, that kind of open play environment is proof that my kid's full imagination is being developed just as well as his ability to follow directions and other ''socially acceptable'' skills.

The diversity of the staff and students is wonderful and really contributes to an interesting environment both for kids and as a parent. To have as many male teachers--particularly young male teachers seems to me to be very important from a role model standpoint. Also, The other New School parents are great to be around--important when you have those parent participation requirements.

The food policy is very Berkeley (no sugar, no meat served--but you can send it in a lunch) but in a manageable way. Kids with food issues (allergies, vegan families) are protected, but the kids are exposed to an amazing array of healthy foods. Half the time my kid won't eat dinner because he has eaten so well at New School and I don't have to worry because I know he's only been offered healthy food. And he will eat so many diverse things that other family and friends won't even touch because its ''normal'' at new school. I am looking forward to my child's eventual move to the 3s and 4s programs because I know each level will expand his world and experience that much more. A very happy New School parent


Feb 2008

I am interested in hearing more recent reviews of The New School on Cedar and Bonita. I have to say I loved the school, especially the numerous activities available, free-choice aspect and get-your-clothes-dirty fun the school seems to offer. But I was a little disturbed by comments in some very old posts about the school in the archives. Can current or recent parents please comment, especially as regards turning out kids who are good citizens and empathetic to the needs of others. Are children excluded in play by others? Are bashful children given help with learning to use words to assert their needs with the other children? Are the staff loving if a child's feelings get hurt? How do very empathetic and sensitive children fare in this environment? interested but hesitant


My son is in the 2 year old room at New School and has been since September, and I'm absolutely thrilled with our experience so far. It's very child-centered, lots of room for them to explore and expand their horizons. The big draw for me was how they work to include the whole family in the learning experience, parents are encouraged to participate in the classroom, with the idea being that learning happens across all settings and not just at school. The staff is very loving and caring, every single person who works there obviously cares a lot about kids and they love their jobs; that kind of dedication is obvious when you see how happy the kids are. From a disciplinary perspective, respect is the major focus. Kids are encouraged to use their words instead of their hands, while the staff is also very aware of the impulse control issues of the average 2 year old. All efforts are taken to protect the feelings and boundaries of both the bashful and the not-so-bashful.

Having said all that, it's definitely not for everybody. Being so child-centered, they tend to lack a bit in structure; I always call it ''Very Very Berkeley.'' My son is absolutely thriving there, but he's high energy and spirited and full of gusto. He loves the play-based, free-for-all feeling, and despite a lack of emphasis on academics, he's managed to learn all his letters and letter sounds somehow (he's 2 1/2). My older son would have hated it, though. He's very mellow and mild mannered and has trouble sticking up for himself, he would have done horribly in an environment like that, but thrived in a Montessori setting with almost an excess of structure.

I would say trust your instincts, but if you think it might be a good fit for your child, you'd be doing him/her a wonderful favor by sending them to New School. Feel free to contact me directly with questions. Jill


Between our two daughters, we have been at New School for about 4 1/2 years. Our older daughter, now 7, started when she was 3 and is now in the after-school program; our younger daughter, almost 4 now, started at New School when she was 2 1/2.

We love the play-based environment; the kids learn from being read to, talking (subjects of discussion have included the oil spill in the Bay and Frieda Kahlo) and experiencing the world around them. The teachers are terrific at working with kids to think about and express their own feelings and be caring towards others. They really recognize, appreciate and work with each child's individual temperament. Even though New School tends to be a high-energy place, our book-loving older daughter always was able to find a quiet space and a friend and/or teacher to hang out with. Our children have been supremely well cared for at New School.

Communication between the director and teachers and parents has improved in the last few years. Yes, we often have to spend a few minutes at pick-up time tracking down shoes, socks and jackets that were abandoned in the heat of play. But it's a small price to pay knowing that our kids (and we) are part of such a diverse, loving and Berkeley -- in all the best senses of the word -- community.

Please feel free to email me if you have questions. Robin


Nov 2007

Re: Preschools with Male Teachers
New School of Berkeley has several lovely male teachers.


Nov 2007

We're a Norwegian family and will be spending 6 months in Berkeley (from jaunuary to july) as visiting scholars. Our youngest daughter will be 4 in april. We will be renting a flat on Bonita Ave between Rose and Vine. Could anyone please recommend a nursery school nearby? mark


You'll be right next to the New School (on Bonita, between Cedar & Virginia). We were very happy there--the 4-year-old program is great, with woodshop, cooking, lots of field trips, and more. Give them a call to see if they'll have room: 510-548-9165 former new schooler
March 2007

Re: Berkeley preschool for African American 2-year-old?
New School, on Bonita at Cedar is as diverse as any private preschool I've seen, in both students and staff. The staff has a good gender diversity, too. happy parent


Re: Afterschool program at Arts Magnet? (Mar 2005)
The New school of Berkeley is located around the corner from Berkeley Arts Magnet on Bonita street. New school offers preschool and after-school care to elementary kids, mainly kids from Art Magnet. They walk to Arts Magnet and pick up the kids and walk them back to New School. Other kids come on school busses from other Berkeley schools. New School has been in business since the 60's (hence the ''New'' (ie:progressive) school name) Both my daughters went to preschool and after-school there. It would be worth checking out if you are an Arts Magnet student needing after school care. Their phone number is 548-9165 Lynn Bradshaw
Re: Preschools with Male Teachers (Jan 2005)
The New School Preschool on Bonita at Cedar has at least three male teachers, as well as a number of daddies who help out during the week. The two I know best are David, the head teacher, who also leads the 4-year-old class, and Alfonso, one of the 3-year-old teachers. They're both great. And woodshop with David is a highly sought-after weekly activity, for boys and girls alike. A happy New School parent
Re: Preschools near Totland in Berkeley (Sept 2004)
The New School is located about 3 blocks from Totland. In fact, they usually go there once a week for a picnic and playtime. New School is a very unstructured play-based school. The 2 year olds tend to be kept separate from the older children, but the 3 and 4 year olds do a lot of activities together. Like any school, it's the perfect place for some kids and not the right place for others. My kids love it, and it's definitely right in your neighborhood, so you might want to check it out. New School Mama
June 2003

Hello, I am very seriously considering the New School of Berkeley (1606 Bonita) for my 2 1/2 yr old son this fall. I am very attracted to the facility because I would like my son to really ''get his hands dirty'' with clay and other art materials - he doesn't get a lot of exposure to this at home. And I don't have any concerns about the care - I know the staff are very caring.

But...(!) I was wondering if anyone had observed the effect of a very free play environment on different children. There were some comments that it might be more appropriate for some children than others. Your opinions would be most appreciated! Thank you.


The success of free play (or ''child-centered'') programs really does depend on your child and his/her ability to work independently. My daughter is pretty self-motivated and just graduated from a preschool that is entirely child-centered, where she had a wonderful experience. For her, it was a tremendous opportunity to get creative and develop the kind of self- confidence that comes from following through on her own ideas. She loved the freedom and had a great deal of fun.

For other kids, though, the lack of structure can be intimidating and even scary. We know another family who took their son out of the same program our daughter thrived in, because, as the mom said, he spent his time there either cowering in a corner or wandering around aimlessly, not engaging with anyone or anything. When they switched him to a tiny, very structured program he felt much safer and happier.

The key seems to be the child's tolerance for, and enjoyment of, situations in which s/he is presented with a wide range of options but is not told exactly what to do. If this is the kind of thing that your son likes, then free play at the New School would probably work well.


My son attended, The New School, for only a few months. He was around the same age. I originally was very drawn to the atmosphere because my son was a very active, get into everything kind of kid. I was impressed by their philosophy that they encouraged every child to be themselves. However, after only a few months and during a very traumatic time in our family year they asked us to find a new preschool or to pay out of pocket (in addition to the $850./mth to have someone shadow my son due to his ''aggressive'' physical nature. At first they were very actively trying to work with him and us to get through these issues (which are very normal) but after about a month it began to feel as if they were isolating him and at one time told me that we should consider taking him to a psychologist and that he was abnormal. I was devastated. This all happened at a time when my father in law was dying of cancer. In hindsight we are realizing that this school is really good for some children. It is definately not good for others. I felt that the teachers were reactive and set a stage for my son to feel isolated and bad. My family was very traumatized by this situation. It is a very good place for kids that don't need a lot of structure or close attention. We think my son was overwhelmed by the amount of children and that the staff was not equipped to handle a kid that is physical and needs more supervision. My son is thriving now. He is allowed to be himself and not ostracized for throwing an occasional tantrum or displaying his feelings. Good luck to you. Anon anonymous
Most messages about the New School of Berkeley sounded kind of negative. Let me add my observations. I think it is a wonderful place for after-school activities and a sweet personal environment for a great summer program and we have a great experience with it. After structured school time, it is the perfect place to play with other kids and shift between a wide variety of activities as they like it. I also feel very good about the variety of organic food they serve and my picky eater has been eating good snacks there and increased her repertoire. They also prepare food together with the older children. For preschool we sent our daughter to the Snuggery, a structured program, which was the best preparation for kindergarten I could have envisioned. Anonymous
Re: Preschool for a spirited child (Jan. 2003)
I would avoid the New School for a spirited child -- unless things have changed, they have a very hands-off approach and don't do much guidance or redirection into more productive behavior. My two year-old didn't nap there (the older kids were playing in the playground right outside the nap room) and it seemed like the teacher viewed the behavior as annoying, rather than trying to soothe my child. There was also more rough play and meanness than at the preschool we switched to. anon
Oct. 2002 Re: School for Defiant Child

You might wish to try The New School (formerly The Elmwood School, a Waldorf-inspired school that branched off from the EB Waldorf). They are small enough to accomodate a special child as yours seems to be. In addition, since we have a child with the characteristics ''oppositional-defiant'', creativity and spirit, I would like to suggest you check out THE EXPLOSIVE CHILD by Ross Greene, PhD. He gives parents a different take on this type behavior, with enormous compassion and understanding, laying out tools and suggestions for both parents and teachers. He even makes suggestions on picking the right school for your child. This ia a new book but in paper. We tried the private school route for our child, but without success, so he is now in public school and doing remarkably well. Another parent


April 2002

Re: Preschools that serve organic food
At a recent tour of The New School preschool in Berkeley, at Bonita and Cedar, we were told that the school serves snacks (that parents take turns bringing) that are wholesome and, at least generally, organic. (Kids bring their own lunches; organic food encouraged and sugar not allowed.) robin


Feb. 2002

My daughter goes to The New School on Bonita and Cedar in North Berkeley.

The children's days are filled, not with academics, but with hands-on and physical activities. They have good outdoor (and indoor) play equipment (and better to come as they work on renovations) in two large yards, bunnies, a garden, a wood shop, and a kitchen where they help cook. They also participate in dance, yoga and capoeira classes (but only if they want to), and during the summer months children can sign up for up to eight weeks of swimming lessons, five days per week. Also, there are walks to local parks, field trips in the school van to places farther away, and games of soccer, basketball, and even wrestling. Another highlight this past month happened to be someone visiting the school with live bats!

The children are offered many different outlets for their boundless physical energy and curious minds -- but what makes New School special, at least to me, is that no child is ever forced to do something they don't want to do, not even walks or field trips. Also, doors between the rooms and to the outside are always open, and children circulate freely, participating in what activities interest them -- as groups or individuals. New School has many more staff members than other schools I've seen, which makes this kind of free movement possible -- teachers are everywhere, so children can be everywhere.

There might be puzzles and crafts in one room, cooking and drawing in another, games in the north yard and water play and face painting in the south yard. Meanwhile, tucked away in some corner (outside or inside) will be a spontaneous small reading circle, because a group of children have brought some books to a teacher and asked to be read to. Elsewhere, or during snack times especially, a teacher will bring out a guitar, and there is singing (and sometimes dancing or plays the children make up and perform) during snack eating (or more stories). And a sleepy child may be curled up on a bean bag chair having a nap in the midst of all of this!

A word about snacks: I've never seen a preschool feed children so well as New School does. Several of the teachers are wonderful cooks, and the food they serve is wholesome and delicious and plentiful. Picking your children up before they've had their afternoon snack can be grounds for mutiny some days.

It *is* a large preschool, and there are always many things going on at once. And because children are given so much freedom, I've heard it referred to (with more or less affection) as "Lord of the Flies Preschool." That's an unfair and completely inaccurate description, especially given the staff's dedication to teaching and modeling peace and respect. But I do laugh every time I think of it, if only because of the frequency with which my daughter comes home spattered with paint and glue from the waist up and dirt from the waist down. So I guess if you're looking for someplace neat and orderly, you might want to shop elsewhere. Montessori this is not.

In the past, there have been many children from other countries who initially spoke little or no English; Central America (Nicaragua, I think), Japan, and Israel come to mind. All were welcomed, and all did just fine.

Susan Hagen is the school's director and has been for 25 years. Many of the teachers have been there 10 or 15 years. Some of the older teachers' children, having gone there years ago, have now also returned to teach -- so there are two generations, teaching side by side. It is a place much beloved by children, parents, and staff. And children blossom there. What more can I say? -Anne


Without completely disagreeing with the very positive post regarding The New School, I would like to add another perspective based on my child's experience there and my observations as a participating parent. Because it has such a busy and unstructured program, children who are easily overwhelmed by a lot going on at once (i.e. need more guidance and fewer options) often find this a difficult school to manage. The teachers tend not to greet the children in the morning or to help them settle into an activity and those children who need such a start to their day seem to spend a lot of their time wandering around looking lost. This is especially true of the younger children. The program there is not one that accommodates a group of children of a wide range of ages and temperaments well.

The ''Lord of the Flies'' reference is actually somewhat accurate. Because the teachers generally do not pay close attention to the interactions between the children and do not offer the sort of gentle guidance in social relations that many preschoolers need, there tends to be a clique mentality among the kids--the same kids seem to play together all the time with very little of the flexiblity between groupings that I have observed in other preschools. Because of this a lot of kids are left out socially. All ages (2-5 years) are together nearly all the time and, without more involvement by the teachers, this can also lead to problems such as when younger children try to get involved in the older children's activities and end up disrupting them. I agree that the teachers are very caring and react quickly when problems errupt, but the New School seems to have a philosophy of not getting involved in the children's play and socializing and thus they don't do a lot to prevent problems by teaching the children social skills. There is a feeling that the teachers are mostly reacting and not proacting. My child prefers to have more relaxed interactions with the teachers and did not feel comfortable with the little they offer the kids there.

I have heard the New School referred to as chaotic by a number of people who have both taught there and had children there and I would have to agree with such a characterization. Even so, it does work for those kids who manage well in busy, unstructured environments with a minimum of adult interaction. You need to have a sense of what is best for your child. My child has had a lot more success in a slightly more structured program where the teachers provide useful but unobtrusive guidance, especially in the realm of social relationships. anonymous


June 1997
From: Becky

My daughter, now age 9 and in grade 4, went to New School from the time she was 3 until Kindergarten, and then she attended their after-school program through 3rd grade. We liked NS very much, especially their hang-loose way with the kids. In the pre-school, there were organized activities that the children could join, or not, as each child was so inclined. Kids are encouraged to be active, get dirty, and be involved, but they were also permitted to go off to a quiet spot to read. Steffi, my daughter, enjoyed time to do group activities, time to make her own activities with a few friends, and time alone, and NS allows this to a significant degree. They are much less concerned with academic development at this early age and concentrate on the children developing social skills, coordination skills, skills in the arts, and just having fun. There's plenty of time for school later, which I am inclined to agree. But, I also realize this is not every kid's or every parent's idea of what's right.

The one thing we didn't especially like is how Susan, the director, can be overbearing about certain issues, "no TV" being one of them. It's a VERY "PC" environment, policy-wise, and VERY "Berkeley." We tended to ignore her diatribes.

When it came to after-school care, the program is really good, I think, for K-1 and maybe grade 2. By third grade, Steffi was bored and there was never any homework support so all the homework was left for when we got home after 6 pm and she was pretty tired by then. Homework got to be a frustrating chore and often ended in tears as the clock neared 7 and sometimes 8, which is very late for a third-grader to be doing homework.

This year we switched Steffi to the JCC (Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center) for after-school care and she's doing much better. Most nights, all of her homework is done before she comes home because they give good support there if the child wants to do homework. This give us time to relax together and maybe work on a special project or read.


From: Toby

New School of Berkeley, 548-9165 (I think). It is located about 1/4 mile from here at Cedar and Bonita in a space owned by the Unitarian Church. It has a long history, about 25 years, and the staff are all very experienced with children. Many of the staff have had several years 10-15 of childcare experience and I found that to be great because so many childcare centers are relatively new with new, young staff. It's a great facility with several outside spaces and ample indoor spaces. One thing I like in particular about New School is that the doors are always open. There is also supervision both inside and out so a child can choose to be outside or inside depending on how he/she feels in any moment. There are programs for both the young kids 2.5 - 3 & 4-5. They have a van so they can go on field trips. It's a wonderful established program and I love it! Please check it out!


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