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"As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in schools."  Unknown



How on earth do we help our kids do their language immersion assignments if we don't know the language ourselves?

Here are some ideas regarding homework that have led to happy results.  

Keep in mind the children are not learning anything NEW with their homework. It is normally used to reinforce what is taught in school that day and give them extra practice, not teach them new concepts.


Communication with the teacher is the key.  The teacher is on you and your child's side. They want them to succeed as much as you do.

Since you can’t go over and check the homework, review it.  Ask them what they wrote, what the question is, what they put down on paper. Ask them to pronounce the word in Chinese or Spanish or French. Ask them what that word means. Ask them to read the directions in the language, and then in English.


Set up a regular schedule for homework, whether its before play time, or after activities, try to stay consistent with the time.


Try not to threaten homework as a punishment in anyway. For example, ‘If you two don’t stop fighting, you both are going to sit down and do your homework!”


Allow plenty of time for homework. We tried doing homework in the morning before school, and that simply did not work. Do it in the evening, before activities, after playtime, just get it done the day they bring it home. They, and you, need a good night’s sleep without worry in the morning.


Have one central place for the homework to be done, at the kitchen table works best for us. We tried to set up an area in their room, but that didn't work. They were easily distracted.  Keep the TV, radio and anything else, off.  I constantly have to remind them to sit still and focus, the kitchen table is perfect and easy for a parent to hover around.


Make sure you have a big plastic box of some sort for all the markers, pens, pencils, scissors and paper nearby. I bought my daughter some colorful gel pens after she whined too much about not having anything fancy to write with. What ever they need, give them the tools.


Send an email to the teacher if there is something especially troublesome.  Most immersion teachers will go back and explain to the child what needs to be done correctly.


Stay open and friendly with other parents of kids in the class. Perhaps they have good ideas that have helped them, or not so good ideas from which to stay away. Maybe start an after school homework club once a week.


Focus on helping them with English!  Don’t worry so much about the immersion language, help them along with their English at home. The following excerpt is great advice for parents of immersion children.

”Immersion teachers know that most parents don’t understand the target language. Indeed, immersion programs were designed specifically for children of unilingual parents. You can help make your child’s second-language experience positive and lasting by being supportive and enthusiastic. Research shows that students whose parents have positive attitudes towards the target language do better in immersion programs. Remember that most skills learned in the first language are transferred to the second. Read to your children in English, encourage English writing, and introduce English-language word games like crossword puzzles, word searches, Scrabble and Password. Provide opportunities to use the target language outside of the classroom: borrow or buy books and videos, watch second-language TV with your child, and expose your child to second-language events and activities like plays, interest courses, and sport activities.”   -American Council on Immersion Education newsletter, May 2007, vol. 10, no. 3, by Canadian Parents for French, Ottawa, Ontario.

Lastly and most importantly, tell your child to do the best they can, which is, after all, all that they can do.  And its all that you can do too!?


First Day of School

Parents are often more nervous for the first day of school than the children, especially language immersion school.  

The following is some helpful advice. 

Respect the teacher: 
Every week we read in the news about a truly bizarre teacher, or truly awful teacher. Keep in mind that the ones that make the news are not the majority by any means. Most teachers in our schools are on our side, and want our children to be successful. They certainly don’t enter the profession for the money, so give them a benefit of the doubt and listen to them. They probably spend more time per day than a parent does with their own, so appreciate the fact they know what they are talking about. 

Many Immersion teachers are not native speakers of English. (This will only benefit your child to be taught by native immersion language speakers.)  Therefore, the teacher’s English will be imperfect, in the most endearing way.  Don’t discount that as a flaw, but a bonus. They are licensed, highly educated and degreed professionals so treat them as such. Remember, they are not teaching your child English, they are teaching your child standard American curriculum, just in a different mode of delivery.

Be Involved:
Check your child’s backpack every night, and get on a homework schedule. Immersion parents have an extra duty to make sure their kids keep up in English so read to them or make them read english books every night.
We are all busy, whether it is working full time, kids activities or taking care of life in general.  Set time aside to somehow get involved with your child’s school. Volunteering, class parties, fundraising, anything. Get in there and become part of the team that is educating your child. 

Once school starts, get your routine down. Make a spreadsheet of weekly activities and homework assignments. This will help you immensely once the homework and school commitments begin to increase. Don’t waiver from the routine. Kids need routines as they feel safe, secure and at ease with knowing what is going to happen next.  

Once your child is in immersion, keep in mind they will be with the same group of kids until middle school. Once middle school hits, it will all change. In my children’s school district, they will have only two subjects taught in the immersion language, social studies and language arts, with the same group of kids which they are familiar.   Math, science, and whatever else, will be standard instruction in traditional classes, with perhaps unfamiliar kids.  Therefore, make an effort to sign up your immersion child for scouts, brownies, sports, little league…anything that will enable them to know and befriend non-immersion kids.  


The language learning will come, but its a long haul. Please don’t put the child on the spot at family gatherings by asking them to ‘say something in spanish!’ In the beginning, the child won’t be able to, and later may not want to. Just let the child develop the skills over time. Be patient, supportive, and  most of all, stop worrying!  It will be fine!​

Let's Celebrate

Part of the fun of immersion is the celebration of important holidays and traditions from other cultures. (Little do the kids know this ‘fun’ is really an incredibly enriching and global experience.)

 In many immersion school districts, Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo and Bastille Day are celebrated with quite a big fanfare. This year the district hosted a Chinese New Year celebration at the High school for all kids and families, immersion or not. There were rowdy dragon dances, perfectly timed martial arts demonstrations, and the immersion children performed songs in Chinese with their classmates.  Chinese food was available, as well as Chinese toys, books, clothing and jewelry.


What is Chinese New Year?
According to Chinese Astrology, this year, 2013, is known as the Year of the Snake.
Here in the West, we are familiar with the 12 signs of the zodiac stemming back to ancient Greek and Babylonian astrology. Each sign represents the stars, moon and sun alignment throughout one year.

The Chinese calendar is also divided into 12 cycles, however each cycle last a total of one year. Each cycle is also represented by a special animal.
For the year 2012, the Lunar New Year began January 23, the first day of the first new moon of the year, and ends 15 days later on the full moon.
Celebrations are held in China, Taiwan, Korea, Mongolia, Tibet, Vietnam, Singapore, and any other area with Chinese populations.
Celebrations of the new year start with large parties and fireworks. Lucky foods include dumplings and other stuffed delicacies which symbolize little packages of good fortune. Fireworks are lit to ward off evil spirits.  Loud dragon dances are also performed to scare bad spirits away.
Chinese families clean their homes to begin anew and decorate with fresh flowers and plants to represent rebirth.
Children are given gifts of crisp new money in bright red and gold envelopes.  This represents giving the child good fortune in the new year.
For people in China, this is a wonderful holiday, and gives them a time to take time off work or school, and be with family and friends, much like the Christmas holiday time for Americans.

The Kids are Alright

The Bridge: From Research To Practice, Graduates of a Language Immersion Program • American Council on Immersion Education​

This is another great article by Millie Park Mellgren, Superintendent, Gerrish Higgins School District, Roscommon, MI, and Emily Somers, Graduate Student, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN for the ACIE Newsletter, November 2008


Below are some excerpts, with a link to the full article and survey below.

‘Language immersion programs have been growing in popularity in the United States for the past thirty years. Research conducted in immersion schools and reported throughout the professional literature on immersion education states over and over the benefits of a language immersion education. Students not only gain skills in reading, writing, listening and speaking in both English and the second language but their academic achievements equal or better those attained by peers in English-only programs (e.g., Genesee, 1987, 2004; Turnbull, Lapkin & Hart, 2001). Schools that we have been associated with have posted academic results at the top of their respective school districts and have supported the broad body of literature claiming positive academic results for students.’

‘Immersion teachers have a very special bond with their immersion students and do not seem to forget those special kids, especially those who were enrolled in the first years of their programs. Those pioneer students stay in their hearts because they were the ones who forged a path, just as their teachers did, for many students to follow. Immersion educators wonder about those students and what they are doing with their lives. There is an intense curiosity about the long term impact of immersion education among teachers, and they often wonder if the immersion experience truly shapes the education, career choices, and attitudes of these individuals.’


To read the rest about the results, click here



Explore Cultures

This is a beautiful description of Chinese brush calligraphy, from

The Calligraphy Brush, A Choreograph On Rice Paper

A calligraphy brush looks simple, but once the Chinese brush or Japanese brush starts to move its tip, its expression reaches beyond the limits of the paper.
The play of the calligrapher with the calligraphy brush is often compared to the dance of a ballerina. Just like a ballerina moves the body to perform the choreography, the calligrapher maneuvers the calligraphy brush to shape infinity of calligraphic forms.


The calligraphy brush goes up, goes down, it bends; with more pressure it spreads, with less it regains its shape, and for each movement the calligrapher has to have the calligraphy brush under control and be able to return to a straightened brush tip. For this the artist needs a supple and resilient brush, as only such a tool can respond quickly and unfailingly to the subtle commands of her/his hand, and perform a flawless dance of interplaying brush movements.

Two Languages for Every Child

By Andrew Cotto


Cotto is the author of The Domino Effect and Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery.

Learn more about Andrew at his website:


As a little kid, I was exposed to the Sicilian dialect that was my grandfather's only language, though none of it stuck beyond his imperatives of "Mangia. Mangia." When my grandfather died, when I was 10, the second language of our family died as well. In high school and college, I was a rotten Spanish student, showing little interest or inclination for a foreign tongue. I was totally cool going through life only knowing English. But then, as an adult, I was forced to adapt.


My wife and I decided to move to Italy for a year with our daughter, who was 18-months old at the time. As the mastermind of the Italian adventure, I took care of all the arrangements. I also needed to learn some Italian, which -- if my past was any indication -- would not be easy for me. And it was not easy, but I worked hard, and by the time we arrived, I had a working knowledge of some basic Italian. Having to navigate the country upon arrival only bolstered my fledgling facility with a second language, though it was a consistent struggle throughout our year abroad. Still, I knew I was entering the land of second languages when I began to dream in Italian. By the time we returned home, I would modestly rank my level in Italian as proficient (except when talking food and wine, where I was fluent).


More significantly, upon return, I noticed that my cognitive abilities had improved. I can't say I was smarter beyond the things I'd learned during that informative time, but my brain just seemed to function on a higher level, which I sensed in a myriad of undeniable ways, most notably in a slight speech impediment I'd had since childhood which had essentially disappeared. I attributed this, and the other improved functionalities, to the effort it took to learn another language and use it on a regular basis.

When our daughter was in Pre-K, we were thrilled to learn that the public school she attended in our Brooklyn neighborhood was beginning a French dual language program with her (to be) kindergarten class. We signed up for the lottery, but didn't get in, much to our dismay. But more spaces in the program were made available the following year, so our daughter began her academic life in the first grade evenly split between English and French instruction. I think she inherited my lack of facility for foreign languages, so it was a struggle at times (compounded by the lack of a French speaker at home). But she persevered through the rough years, thrived in the latter ones, and will graduate grammar school this Spring academically fluent in French (complete with a perfect accent).


I'm amazed by the two classes of dual language students at my daughter's school. The nearly 50 of them have been together for five or six years, evenly divided between Francophones and Anglophones. The Francophones, mostly, come from various neighborhoods around Brooklyn; the Anglophones, mostly, are zoned for the school. All of them are bilingual now. They are also, by and large, academically accomplished, well-rounded, mature, engaging and confident 11-year olds. Beyond exceptional parenting, by and large, I attribute much of their distinction to the experience of a dual language immersion program. I don't know the science, I just know these kids. And they are advanced in many ways.


What I sensed about dual languages ten years ago is common knowledge now. It does remarkable things to our brains, which manifest in a variety of beneficial ways, and the sooner one starts, the better. There is some increase in dual language programs in schools, but most of our young people are not exposed to other languages until middle school, and even then only in one course at a time. America, as a country, would be wise to implement languages in the curriculum as early as Pre-K in public schools, and I imagine -- someday -- this will be common, especially in our efforts to communicate and compete globally as well as improving math and science skills at home.


In the meantime, I suggest parents of young children look at the study of second languages as an enrichment activity as important, if not more so, than any other. Just think; a second language can be the new piano.

Questions about Immersion

Many parents believe that being bilingual is a very important skill they want for their children. However, this desire comes with questions and concerns about how it may affect their child’s overall education.​

According to Raising Bilingual Children: Common Parental Concern and Current Research, by Kendall King and Lyn Fogel, Georgetown University, there are four main issues parents have regarding language immersion.

These researchers conducted interviews with families who are hoping to raise their children bilingual.
In summary:

• Although many parents believe that bilingualism results in language delay, research suggests that monolingual and bilingual children meet major language developmental milestones at similar times.
• Despite many parents' fear that using two languages will result in confusion for their children, there is no research evidence to support this. On the contrary, use of two languages in the same conversation has been found to be a sign of mastery of both languages.
• Many parents rely heavily on television to teach the second language; yet this is best considered a fun source of secondary support for language learning. Human interaction is the best method for fostering language learning.
Contrary to the widespread notion among parents that bilingualism results in "bigger, better brains," parents more realistically can expect their bilingual

children to gain specific advantages in targeted areas, such as greater understanding of language as an abstract system.

You can read the full digest here originally posted on the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)website along with the thorough references and attributed studies.



for fun

Bento:  Japanese, meaning a single serving home packed meal. In English, that would be ‘home packed lunch’.

Behold the Bento lunch!

I buy my kids the school cafeteria lunches as it is just so much easier for me than having to worry about packing a healthy lunch on a rushed morning. I also know they will have a good meal at least once a day with our busy schedule at home. (Eating Happy Meals in the car on the way to baseball and gymnastics, anyone?)

Some mothers however, go way above and beyond the call of duty with making their children lunches and God Bless them for that. I stand in awe.

Here is a good article with recipes and ideas should you want to try.

First Day of School

How it all works

'What Parents Want to Know About Foreign Language Immersion Programs'


By Tara W. Fortune, Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, University of Minnesota, and Diane J. Tedick, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Minnesota.

This is an excellent and informative article that describes and explains the benefits of language immersion education.​

Below are the highlights, but you can read the full digest here.

Foreign language immersion programs in the United States are designed to enrich the education of native-English-speaking students by teaching them all of their academic subjects in a second language. The goal is for students to become proficient in the second language and develop increased cultural awareness while reaching a high level of academic achievement.

In foreign language immersion programs, the regular school curriculum is taught in the immersion language for at least half of the school day. In partial immersion programs, instructional time is divided equally between English and the immersion language throughout the elementary grades. In full immersion programs, teachers use no English at all in the early grades. In Grade 2, 3, or 4, teachers introduce English language arts and reading for one period per day and gradually move toward an even distribution of English and the immersion language by Grade 5 or 6. In the secondary school grades, immersion students typically have access to at least two course offerings in the immersion language, most often in social studies and language arts.

Immersion programs are the fastest growing and most effective type of foreign language program currently available in U.S. schools. Becoming bilingual opens the door to communication with more people in more places, and many parents want to provide their children with skills to interact competently in an increasingly interdependent world community.

In addition to reaping the social and economic advantages of bilingualism, immersion learners benefit cognitively, exhibiting greater nonverbal problem-solving abilities and more flexible thinking (see reviews in Met, 1998). It has been suggested that the very processes learners need to use to make sense of the teacher’s meaning make them pay closer attention and think harder. These processes, in turn, appear to have a positive effect on cognitive development.

Many parents are initially fearful that immersion may have a negative impact on their child’s English language development. But research consistently finds that the immersion experience actually enhances English language development (Cloud, Genesee, & Hamayan, 2000). It should be noted that full immersion students’ English development may lag temporarily in reading, word knowledge, and spelling while instruction is occurring exclusively in the immersion language. However, after a year or two of instruction in English language arts, this discrepancy disappears (Genesee, 1987).​

The Amazing Q

I remember back in the ‘70s when I was in third grade, watching my teacher Mrs. Wagner as she magically drew cursive letters on the overhead projector. 
We copied her in awe. My favorite was the amazing capital Q and the really fun letter z.
Today, students are not taught how to write cursive English in longhand at school. 
The Common Core State Standards as of 2012 allow every state to decide wether to include cursive penmanship in the elementary school curriculum. More that 40 states now have replace cursive with ‘computer lab’, ‘keyboarding skills’ ‘Windows Word’ and Adobe Power Point.
The simple reason being there is no time during the school day to teach penmanship.  That time has been replaced for computer skills which are undoubtedly more necessary and valuable in our world today. Nonetheless, it saddens me that cursive penmanship has now become a dying art!
A sincere suggestion is buy some large ruled tablets from the dollar store and have your children practice writing the upper and lower case ABCs in cursive. I told my kids this is the ‘grown up’ way to write.  Have them write their names and address.  Ask them to practice writing their classmate’s names in cursive.  After a few complaints of more homework, they are starting to get the hang of it and doing it on their own.


Your child’s immersion language is very important, but don’t forget to teach and  appreciate the beauty of the English language along the way.​

Good to Great

How French Immersion Got Me Out of the 'Hood
By Anthony Morgan

In a recent op-ed by Margaret Wente, The Globe and Mail's favourite lightning-rod commentator offers her take on what's behind the growing popularity of French Immersion in Canada.
Wente spends the article trashing the program and ultimately suggests that French Immersion should be rolled back to the status of a restricted luxury good to be enjoyed by a privileged, lottery-winning few. Most shockingly, Wente even negates the geographical location of Canada's capital city and insults both Franco-Ontarians and Franco-Manitobans by going as far as to write that Canadian students don't need French "unless they live in Quebec or New Brunswick."
While certain French Immersion programs are not delivering on their full potential, I think most fair-minded Canadians will be rather confused by Wente's inability to recognize that many of its short-comings are consequences of politicians and policy makers failing to fund the program in a way that keeps pace with demand, and that the challenges she points out actually stand as strong reasons to direct more resources towards French Immersion education, rather than restricting or reversing its expansion.
Beyond that point, however, I'd like to use my own story to draw attention to the immensely positive side of what can happen when parents who believe deeply in the Canadian dream are determined to have their child placed in French immersion, and commit to supporting that child through the program's challenges, good and bad.
My mother and father are immigrants from England and Jamaica, respectively. They arrived in Canada as children. My parents were never married. Before they turned 19 they already had my older sister. I was born just over three years later when my parents were 22 years old.
Barely adults and with three kids by the age of 26 (having added my younger brother to the mix by then), my parents bobbled back and forth from being on social assistance to being working poor. We grew up in social housing in various corners of the Greater Toronto Area, finally settling in the Mississauga neighbourhood of Malton, which for the last 20 years has mostly been known for its high density of immigrants, poverty and violent crime.
In a fight against the momentum of generational poverty, my parents deployed different strategies with me and my siblings so that we would not have to grow up restricted to the world of narrow and depressing options that we were surrounded by in our troubled neighbourhood.
For me, they decided that French immersion would be my ticket out: I thank God every day for their foresight and wisdom.
Instead of leaving me to attend under-resourced schools where the overwhelming majority of my classmates would have been from the same impoverished and marginalized neighbourhood, because the vast majority of kids in the French immersion programs in Bramalea were bused in from some of the richest and poorest neighbourhoods around the area, I was afforded the invaluable experience of learning in classrooms that featured a rich tapestry of cultural, ethnic and most importantly, socio-economic diversity. While our home lives differed markedly, at school my classmates and I were united in our enriching pursuit of a French language education.
I will admit that despite being awarded a Certificate of Bilingual Studies upon graduation, I didn't graduate as a fluent French speaker -- it was mostly just the kids with a French-speaking family member or those whose parents could afford added private tutoring that did so.

However, my French immersion education prepared me for not only the intellectual challenges that awaited me at the University of Toronto where I did undergraduate studies, but also allowed me to develop the confidence to believe in my ability to succeed in university despite the fact that only a handful of my classmates did not come from exceptionally privileged, white schools and families. In one important sense, university was an extension of high school; just 60 times bigger, and 1000 times more Red Bull.
By the time I was set to graduate from U of T, my parents were ten years separated but still in better financial positions than when we were kids. However, although I amassed a healthy number of academic recognitions in undergrad, my parents were still in no place to help me cover tuition, books and/or living expenses at any English-language Canadian law schools.

Enter: McGill Law's bilingual, double-degree law program.
My French immersion education not only allowed me to get into McGill Law, but because it's a bilingual program, that same education was literally critical to successfully getting me through law school. Now, I find myself living in Ottawa, articling within the federal government and calling on my French language education every day, as the cases I work on often come from Quebec, and the default language in my office is French. In light of this, my parents are right to smile widely when they talk about the chance they took to put me in French immersion and push me to stick with it even when I wanted to quit.

Now, the next few months for many of the non-French immersion friends I grew up with will consist of: having and/or providing for their kid(s); continuing in the monotony of lower-skilled and often dangerous jobs that many have told me they can barely tolerate; and in too many cases, worse.
For many other important reasons but due in significant measure to my French immersion education, I will become licensed to practice law in Ontario in four months' time and am now planning to get married to my wonderful, perfectly bilingual fiancée who I met while in law school in Montreal, and whose Haitian parents also pushed her to pursue a mastery of both of Canada's official languages.

Mine is a story that stands as an emphatic defence of the expansion of and more robust investment in French immersion education in Canada. And no, my story is not the exception; rather it is one of the tens of thousands of under-told and underappreciated stories that demonstrate the extraordinary benefits and promise of a French Immersion education for children of all racial, ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds.

Speaking as a young Black man born to younger, under-educated, poor, immigrant parents, I can only give thanks that the Margaret Wentes out there did not have a more credible or influential say on education policy when I was just a little Black boy more statistically inclined to being called a criminal, than being addressed as Counsel.

Follow Anthony Morgan on Twitter:

​10 Reasons to learn French

Courtesy of the Consulote General of France in Houston, TX

1. A world language

More than 200 million people speak French on the five continents. The Francophonie, the international organisation of French-speaking countries, comprises 68 states and governments. French is the second most widely learned foreign language after English, and the ninth most widely spoken language in the world. French is also the only language, alongside English, that is taught in every country in the world. France operates the biggest international network of cultural institutes, which run French-language courses for more than 750,000 learners.

2. A language for the job market

An ability to speak French and English is an advantage on the international job market. A knowledge of French opens the doors of French companies in France and other French-speaking parts of the world (Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, and North and sub-Saharan Africa). As the world’s fifth biggest economy and number-three destination for foreign investment, France is a key economic partner.

3. The language of culture

French is the international language of cooking, fashion, theatre, the visual arts, dance and architecture. A knowledge of French offers access to great works of literature, as well as films and songs, in the original French. French is the language of Victor Hugo, Molière, Léopold Sendar Senghor, Edith Piaf, Jean-Paul Sartre, Alain Delon and Zinedine Zidane.

4. A language for travel

France is the world’s number-one tourist destination and attracts more than 70 million visitors a year. A little French makes it so much more enjoyable to visit Paris and all the regions of France (from the mild climes of the Cote d’Azur to the snow-capped peaks of the Alps via the rugged coastline of Brittany) and offers insights into French culture, mentality and way of life. French also comes in handy when travelling to Africa, Switzerland, Canada, Monaco, the Seychelles and other places.

5. A language for higher education

Speaking French opens up study opportunities at renowned French universities and business schools, ranked among the top higher education institutions in Europe and the world. Students with a good level of French are eligible for French government scholarships to enrol in postgraduate courses in France in any discipline and qualify for internationally recognised French degrees.

6. The other language of international relations

French is both a working language and an official language of the United Nations, the European Union, UNESCO, NATO, the International Olympic Committee, the International Red Cross and international courts. French is the language of the three cities where the EU institutions are headquartered: Strasbourg, Brussels and Luxembourg.

7. A language that opens up the world

After English and German, French is the third most used language on the Internet, ahead of Spanish. An ability to understand French offers an alternative view of the world through communication with French speakers from all the continents and news from the leading French-language international media (TV5, France 24 and Radio France Internationale).

8. A language that is fun to learn

French is an easy language to learn. There are many methods on the market that make learning French enjoyable for children and adults alike. It does not take long to reach a level where you can communicate in French.

9. A language for learning other languages

French is a good base for learning other languages, especially Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian) as well as English, since fifty per cent of current English vocabulary is derived from French.

10. The language of love and reason

First and foremost, learning French is the pleasure of learning a beautiful, rich, melodious language, often called the language of love. French is also an analytical language that structures thought and develops critical thinking, which is a valuable skill for discussions and negotiations.


​The Swearing Jar

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