Showing posts with label How To. Show all posts
Showing posts with label How To. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 22

HOW TO avoid summer sunburns

It seems like every summer there is new news about how, when, where and why to use sunscreen. We all know we need it, but my eyes start to cross when I arrive at the sunscreen aisle. So, this year I really appreciated the super informative article on sun protection in the June issue of Better Homes & Gardens.  Here's an excerpt from the article 10 Signs You're About To Burn by Jan Sheehan to help you avoid sunburns this summer:

Signs You're About to Burn
  1. You're outdoors when your shadow is short--A stumpy shadow means the sun is directly overhead, the point at which UVB rays poke straight down through the ozone layer with minimal scattering.  As a result, a person's UVB exposure is up to 50 percent higher during this stretch of day than in early morning or late afternoon.
  2. Your sunscreen absorbs in seconds--Sorry, but a think squiggle of lotion isn't going to cut it.  To get the SPF level promised on the label, you need to slick on enough for your skin to stay damp for a minute or two.  (When wearing a swimsuit, count on using an amount that fills your palm.)
  3. You apply your first coat of sunscreen outside--Beware: You could burn while the stuff is booting up.  Modern chemical formulas--those made with oxybenzone, avobenzone, and similar ingredients--work by absorbing ultraviolet rays.  For the products to be effective, they must first bind to proteins in the skin, a process that takes about 20 minutes.
  4. You grab sunscreen from the car--On a bright summer day, you could fry an egg on the dashboard of a parked vehicle.  Don't let those triple-digit temperatures cook your sunscreen, too.  Take your sunscreen with you when you leave your car, and while outdoors, do what you can to shield it--say, by stashing the tube in a drink cooler.
  5. You pop a pain reliever--Once absorbed by the body, common medications can react with ultraviolet light on the skin's surface, resulting in serious burns.  This rapid reaction, known as photosensitivity, is most often seen with ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), certain antibiotics, oral contraceptives, and diuretics.

Photo from Microsoft Office Clipart Gallery

Contributed by Danyelle, Fairmont Private Schools

Thursday, May 10

HOW TO use the fairmont blackboard mobile app

In 2010 Fairmont launched the Blackboard Learning Management System for our preschool-12th grade programs to further integrate technology into our curriculum and extend learning beyond the classroom. Blackboard serves as an interactive portal for teachers to publish homework, course content, announcements and key resources for students to access from home any time. Our teachers have adopted this new platform with enthusiasm and are using Blackboard in amazing ways. We have also been pleased to provide parent logins to all of our parents, enabling you to easily access teacher and school announcements and keep track of your student's progress. 

This year you asked us to take Blackboard to the next level by integrating a mobile app so that your child(ren) can access their classroom from any device at any time. We loved hearing your feedback, and we listened! We are pleased to announce the launch of our new Blackboard Mobile Learn app. The app is available for free download on the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Blackberry smartphones, Android devices, and HP web OS devices. The app is designed for student use, and Fairmont recommends the app specifically for grades 4-12. Students can log in and access all of the same resources as the web-based version, but in a dynamic, mobile-friendly way. Blackboard studies show that schools who integrate the mobile app see a significant increase in student online participation, and we are excited to offer our students another way to engage with coursework outside the classroom.  

Unfortunately, Blackboard's Mobile Learn app does not yet support the parent login and interface. However, developing the best way to provide parents mobile access to homework, grades and key announcements is a project we are prioritizing this year and working with Blackboard to achieve. 

Please read the instructions below to help your student start using Fairmont's Blackboard Mobile Learn app today! 

To download and start using the Blackboard Mobile App:
1)  Search for "Blackboard Mobile Learn" in your App Store 
2) Once Blackboard Mobile Learn is installed, search for "Fairmont-Thesys" using the 
search bar that automatically appears when you open the app
3)  Select "Fairmont-Thesys"
4)  Log in using the same username and password you normally use to access Blackboard

Additional Resources: 

Contributed by Sandy Cosgrove, Fairmont Schools Director of Education 

Thursday, May 3

HOW TO save on your summer vacation

Can you believe it's May already?! That means summer is just a few short weeks away.  If you haven't made your plans yet there's still time to benefit from Parents magazine's money-saving vacation pointers.  I've already enlisted a few of them in planning my family's whirlwind tour of So Cal's theme parks.  Here are a few of my favorite tips:

Rent Lodging from the Owner
Score a deal by seeking out by-owner rentals when you need overnight digs -- and be ready to negotiate. "With people not traveling as much this summer it's a great time to call up the owners of vacation condos or mom-and-pop type hotels to ask for a deal," says Ellie Kay, mother of seven and the author of A Mom's Guide to Family Finances. "You'll speak directly with the owner, and because they're used to being full at this time of the year, they're more likely to offer you a discount."

Theme Parks: Go Local
A trip to a theme park doesn't have to include long car rides, flights, and hotels -- chances are your kids (especially younger ones) will be just as thrilled with a great local park. Hit up your park's Web site before you go. Many offer discounts on tickets purchased online, have printable coupons for deals on food, and offer information about reduced fares for afternoon admission, season passes, and group ticket sales.

Give the Kids a Budget
Prevent post-vacation credit card bill shock (and teach your kids a thing or two about budgeting) by thinking about how much each day will cost in advance -- and then giving your kids (over age 7) a reasonable amount of cash as their daily spending money. Let them know they can keep anything that's left over so they'll think about whether or not they really need both the cotton candy and the jumbo lollipop -- or if they can make do with one or the other and pocket the rest. Be clear and stick to you guns -- if the money runs out, that's it. No bailing out your spendthrift kid.

Photo from

Contributed by Danyelle, Fairmont Private Schools

Thursday, April 12

HOW TO prepare for college early

The key to preparing your child for success in the high school and college admissions process is starting early. Choosing the right high school is extremely important, but it can be a tough decision. Something to look for when considering schools is a strong college counseling program with an emphasis on individualized guidance. Here is an example of what your student's college counselor should be doing each year: 

FRESHMAN YEAR - One to two meetings which include:

  • Setting out a four-year academic course of study to fulfill the required academic high school work expected of college admissions offices (includes those at the California State and University of California Systems and top private colleges and universities)
  • Discussing expected levels of academic achievement and extracurricular activities for various institutions during one’s high school career in order to be competitive for admission.  
  • What to do with summers

- One to two meetings which include: 

  • Reviewing student’s academic plans to ensure college application eligibility   Discussing admissions expectations and requirements of different colleges
  • Advising on extracurricular and summer activities to round out the student’s high school experience, making him/her more interesting to colleges
  • Introducing the latest characteristics of colleges across the country
  • Reviewing the different fields of study at various colleges
  • What to do with summer

JUNIOR & SENIOR YEAR - Up to six meetings per year which include:

  • Beginning a discussion of different types of colleges the student could attend
  • Assessing student goals and desires for college study
  • Introducing resources for beginning a college search
  • Discovering what colleges are really the best for the student and why
  • Assembling a working list of colleges
  • Understanding SATs and other standardized testing
  • Generating ideas for the college essay
  • Securing letters of recommendation
  • Preparing for successful college visits and interviews
  • Keeping track of applications
  • Navigating the financial aid process and looking for scholarships
  • Making a good decision after receiving college acceptances
  • Knowing what to expect upon arrival on campus
  • Exploring the possibility of a gap year after high school 

To learn more about high school and college counseling, attend one of our upcoming info sessions with Fairmont Prep College Counselor Jonathan Dunn. He will provide an overview of the process and answer all your questions. Click on the campus name below to RSVP. 

Upcoming High School/College Counselor Info Sessions

Contributed by Alyssa, Fairmont Private Schools 

Thursday, February 23

HOW TO toy & clothing donations

Sometimes no matter how much spring cleaning you do, there's just too much stuff to organize! Between the toys, stuffed animals, clothes, shoes, books, etc., children's rooms can become cluttered in no time. Having more stuff than can fit on the shelves or in the closet can make kids feel overwhelmed and unwilling to help clean. 

Fortunately, you can avoid this conundrum and teach your kids the importance of sharing and giving back by encouraging them to donate their unused clothes and toys on a regular basis. Whether you donate once or twice a year, or every time a new toy joins the toy box, you'll help your child become more compassionate and generous by limiting his or her belongings to only the essentials and sharing the rest with others. 

There are tons of local organizations that accept donations throughout the year. Here's a quick list to get you started: 
  • Goodwill of Orange County has donation locations across the county and also offers a pick-up service. 
  • Salvation Army in Anaheim accepts all donations and will send someone to come pick them up. 
  • Children's Bureau of Southern California accepts specifically kids toys, clothes and educational activities. 
Click here for more donation locations, and remember that friends and family members are also great for re-appreciating an underused toy or sweater. 

Image from A Child Grows in Brooklyn

Contributed by Alyssa, Fairmont Private Schools 

Thursday, February 16

HOW TO identify kindergarten readiness

Is your child ready for Kindergarten? The skill sets that Kindergarten teachers are looking for may surprise you. You might think it’s important for children to enter Kindergarten knowing their ABCs, numbers, shapes and colors so they can keep up with the curriculum. While teachers love children who come having mastered letter and number recognition, just as much emphasis is placed on the following:
  • Good listening skills. Loves listening to stories. Answers questions about a story. Hears and identifies letter sounds in words. Detects rhyming words and patterns. Concentrates on what the teacher is saying. Listens carefully for directions. Follows 3-step directions.
  • Strong fine motor skills. Correct pencil grasp. Forms letters and numbers, and writes first name. Weaves and threads objects. Colors a simple picture. Cuts on a line. Copies simple shapes. Has mastered practical life skills i.e. buttons, zippers, and fasteners on clothing. Also beginning to learn to tie shoes.
  • Solid oral language skills. Has a strong knowledge about their world. Uses words to convey needs, feelings, likes and dislikes. Uses language/words in the correct context. Identifies letter sounds. Responds to questions in complete sentences. Retells a story in own words.
  • Ability to play with others. Invites other to play through conversation and body language. Communicates with others by expressing personal wants. Understands and respects rules--often asks permission. Takes turns and shares (toys and attention with others. Shows self-control by using words instead of hands. Pretends while playing (combines fantasy and reality). Is silly, playful and happy. Plays through gross motor skills (jumping, climbing, etc.)
  • Enthusiasm for learning. Asks questions. Participates in activities. Becomes engaged in lessons. Wants to come to school. Is developing a habit of cooperation. Is curious and wants to investigate. Is willing to take risks and not afraid of making mistakes. Shows independence.

Watch your child's behavior and look for these key signs to ensure that he or she is ready to transition to "the big school." Starting Kindergarten when the child is truly ready is one of the first key steps towards academic success. 

Contributed by Rae Douglas, Citron Campus Director & Sheryl Reynolds, Edgewood Campus Admissions Director 

(Image from Mindful Meals)

Monday, February 6

HOW TO make the most of open house

Open House season is here!  That means it's time for students and their teachers to "show off" everything that has been going on since school started in the fall.  No one loves Open House more than moms and dads who can't wait to be wowed by all of the incredible work on display. With that in mind, here are a few Dos and Don'ts to get the most out of your Open House experience.

DO let your child guide you around the classroom and campus to any special displays or presentations. Pay special attention as he or she shares personal work with you. This is a precious opportunity to say "great job" and to reinforce the life lesson that hard work pays off.

DON'T compare your child's work with that of his or her classmates. Every child is unique with his or her own strong suits.  I know it's tempting to wonder out loud why your child's handwriting isn't as neat as Susie's, but now is not the time. If something really concerns you, schedule a conference to talk it over with your child's teacher. 

DO make a point of praising your child's teacher.  Let him or her know how great the room looks and how impressed you are with all of the student work on display.  Open House is a big night for teachers, who, in my opinion, don't get enough kudos for all that they do.  Let your child's teacher know how much you appreciate his or her hard work in preparation of Open House and throughout the year.

DON'T pull your child's teacher aside for an impromptu conference.  You'll put the teacher in an awkward position and you won't get his or her undivided attention.  If something is on your mind, plan to discuss it at a more appropriate time.

DO visit other classrooms including the rooms of teachers in the next grade up from your child's current grade.  This is a wonderful time for you and your child to check out what it's like to "move-up" to the next grade.  You'll also have an opportunity to meet art, music, science lab and other specialty teachers and find out a little more about what goes on in these programs.

DON'T forget to bring your camera so you can post some awesome pictures on Facebook the day after the big night!

Contributed by Danyelle, Fairmont Private Schools

Monday, January 30

HOW TO plan a kid-friendly super bowl party

Super Bowl Sunday is just around the corner, which means it's time to plan that annual football-themed extravaganza! Between the appetizers, drinks and decor, planning activities for the kids can often slip through the cracks--leaving you missing the big play or the funniest commercial while you struggle to find Mr. Rabbit or the Toy Story DVD. We're making it easy to plan ahead this year with some simple ways to ensure your kids feel like part of the party. 
  • Get the kids up to speed on their football vocabulary before the game by making flash cards with some of these football terms. Read out the definitions and see who can name the word or make it into a game of charades by giving each child one card that he or she has to act out while everyone else guesses the term. That way everyone is on the same page when the ref yells, "Touchdown!"
  • Foster a little friendly competition with the Super Bowl Smackdown game. Print copies of this worksheet for each child and have them fill it out with their Giants vs. Patriots predictions before the game begins. Then have the kids follow along with the game to see who wins each round. Reward the winners with little treats or prizes. 
  • Test the kids' NFL team knowledge with this awesome memory matching game. Download and print this document (courtesy of Toddler Approved and artist Charles Arey) and cut out the squares to make the cards. Then set up a kids table away from the main viewing area where the kiddos can play. 
  • We all look forward to the food at parties, and so do kids! Make them feel loved by having a special "kids section" of the food table with finger-food favorites like mini croissant hot dogs, veggies & ranch, fresh fruit, string cheese and mini pizzas. When in doubt, keep it simple. 
  • Make dessert a big event for the kids by having a cupcake decorating table. They can turn their cupcakes into footballs with a layer of chocolate frosting and  white icing "lace" lines, or they can decorate according to their favorite team with white icing and red or blue colored sprinkles. 

Contributed by Alyssa, Fairmont Private Schools 

Image from

Thursday, January 19

HOW TO is your child ready for kindergarten?

Shelia Rafat, Admissions Director at the Citron Campus, has had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of soon-to-be kindergartners over the course of her career. She recently conducted a Fairmont Chalk Talk on how to tell when your preschooler is ready for the big "K". While there is no perfect formula that determines when children are truly ready for kindergarten, she shared the following checklist.  And don't worry if your little one isn't an ace with her ABCs just yet. According to Ms. Shelia, and others in early childhood, what's more important is that your child demonstrates a willingness and eagerness to learn.

Signs that your child may be ready for kindergarten:
  • Cuts with scissors.
  • Traces basic shapes.
  • Sorts similar objects by color, shape and size.
  • Can pay attention for short periods of time to adult-directed tasks.
  • Separates from parents without being upset.
  • Identifies the beginning sounds of some words.
  • Speaks in complete sentences of five to six words.
  • Manages bathroom needs.
  • Identifies alphabet letters and their sounds.
  • Counts to ten.
  • Recognizes some common sight words.
  • Recognizes groups of one, two, three, four, and five.
  • Can share and play with others.
  • Can bounce a ball.
  • Can look at a picture and then tell a story.

photo from Microsoft Office photo gallery

Contributed by Danyelle, Fairmont Private Schools


Thursday, December 8

HOW TO prevent & cure winter colds naturally

Between the chilly temperatures and Santa Ana winds, colds seem to spread like wildfire. How can you prevent and treat colds without strong medicines and trips to the doctor? Here are our top five cold prevention tips from Body Ecology

  • SLEEP! This may seem like a no-brainer, but with the busy lives we lead, it can be tough to get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep each night. Without sleep, your body will have a much harder time fighting off cold viruses. 
  • VITAMIN C Supplements can be used to guarantee you get the right amount of vitamin C each day, but you'd be amazed how many foods can easily provide your daily dose of this cold-fighting vitamin. This list of foods with the most vitamin C is a great place to start--and you may be surprised to find that oranges aren't even at the top! 
  • AVOID SUGARS Yes, this is a tough one during the holiday cookie season, but sugars and acid-forming foods significantly increase your risk of contracting a cold, because they hinder your immune system. 
  • SMILE Seriously, studies show that people who laugh, smile and truly have fun once a day have stronger immune systems. (Plus, we all deserve a pick-me-up now and then!)
  • FERMENTED FOODS & DRINKS Overall health starts in the digestive system and these foods and drinks make sure that system is running smoothly all the time. 

And if the cold has already hit, try out this prescription of natural remedies: 

Tuesday, November 29

HOW TO be a calmer parent

Along with tidings of comfort and joy, the holiday season seems to always bring a little extra stress. Adding shopping and decorating and family parties to your already hectic schedule can make it easier to lose your cool. But when you're around the kids, it's important to handle stressful situations with composure to set a good example. According to psychologist Matthew McKay, Ph.D., coauthor of When Anger Hurts Your Kids, "Studies have shown that parents who express a lot of anger in front of their kids end up with less empathetic children. These kids are more aggressive and more depressed than peers from calmer families, and they perform worse in school."

So how can you avoid the parental temper tantrums? Here are some helpful tips from Good Housekeeping
  • In that white-hot moment of anger, visualize your child as a baby. "Older kids and teens are not adorable like babies, and sometimes they can be very obnoxious. When you remember them as the babies they once were, that can do some good," says Sandra P. Thomas, Ph.D.
  • Take a time-out and walk into another room. Gain some literal distance from the situation to regain your cool. 
  • If your anger has already boiled over, the most important thing is to own up to what you've done wrong. Apologize sincerely, promise to try not to do it again, comfort your child and move on. Dwelling on the situation can make it seem more traumatic than it really was. 
  • If you've gotten into an argument with your spouse that your child overheard, it's important to circle back quickly and do damage control, says Charles Spielberger, Ph.D. Don't explain all the reasons you were upset. Just acknowledge what happened and explain that you've worked it out and that you still love each other. If possible, emphasize what you'll do differently next time. 
For more tips and ground rules for short-circuiting your anger, check out this article

Contributed by Alyssa, Fairmont Private Schools 

(Photo from EduGuide)

Tuesday, November 15

HOW TO take the best family portraits

There's nothing like a great family portrait, especially in time for holiday cards and greetings. But we all know that it can seem virtually impossible to capture that one fleeting moment when everyone is looking at the camera and smiling. We loved these helpful tips from photographer David Capron of Emotion Portrait Studios that we found in Coast Kids. Hope they help make your holiday portrait picture-perfect! 
  • Schedule Accordingly. Plan the time of the shoot based on your children's best time of day. Avoid nap times and meal times, and make sure everyone has had a nice snack beforehand so there are no rumbly tummies. 
  • Avoid the Matchy-Matchy. Capron recommends letting every family member have a say in what he or she wants to wear. This way, the picture will better express everyone's individuality and come out more fun and playful. Consider asking everyone to choose clothing in a particular color scheme instead of mandating matching dresses or shirts. 
  • Get the Kids Involved. Ask each child to choose one belonging to bring to the photo shoot. This object will provide some comfort and tell the photographer about the child's personality. 
  • Visit the Studio in Advance. Consider setting up an appointment to visit the studio and meet with the photographer before the actual shoot. The photographer can get a sense of your family's chemistry and the children will become more comfortable in the space. 

Contributed by Alyssa, Fairmont Private Schools 

(Image from Light Stalking)

Thursday, November 10

HOW TO stay focused on school during the holidays

The holidays are coming, the holidays are coming!  Yes, I know, the stress and activity levels are already ratcheting up in your household as they are in mine.  There are parties and programs, travel and house guests, cooking, baking, buying....  If you think you're the only one affected by the hubbub of the holiday season, think again.  Our kids are also experiencing a dramatic shift away from their daily routines.  Sometimes this can mean a hiccup in their overall academic progress.  Here are a few simple tips to help keep your kids focused on their schoolwork during the holidays:
  • Continue to create a calm, distraction-free zone for studying and homework.  This means turning off the TV (and the Christmas carols) and limiting the number of interruptions during your child's homework time.  You can still keep it festive by providing snacks and warm cocoa while he/she works.
  • Limit the number of activities your children participate in during the school week.  Okay, so this may be a case of easier said than done, but even it your child can't opt out of a mid-week engagement, be sure he/she can be home for a reasonable bedtime.
  • Stick to bedtime routines including nightly reading with your child.  Try to keep up the good work when it comes to bedtime stories.  Reading to your child just 15 minutes a night will boost his/her reading skills and provide much-needed downtime for the two of you to bond over a good book.
  • Balance sugary sweets with healthy, hearty meals including a nutritious breakfast.  There's no reason to ban your children from enjoying holiday goodies, but a steady diet of cookies, cake and candy isn't the best brain food.  Sneak healthy ingredients into kid-friendly foods like pancakes, smoothies and spaghetti and you'll be fueling a healthy mind and body.
  • Over holiday breaks, keep your child's mind sharp with educational activities.  Invite an aunt, uncle or grandparent to take the kids to a local museum for the day. Or, go to the library for an hour or two. Turn holiday baking into a math lesson.  Ask your children the history behind holiday celebrations and have them do some online research.  Encourage your child to keep an illustrated journal of his/her holiday experiences.
  • Keep up your active lifestyle.  With shorter, cooler days, it can be difficult for kids to get the recommended 60 minutes of exercise they need to stay healthy and focus in school.  If a hectic schedule keeps you from heading to the park or taking walks around the block, encourage your kids to jump rope or work out indoors with fun exercise DVDs.
Photo credit: Microsoft Office online photo gallery

Contributed by Danyelle

Tuesday, October 4

HOW TO make the most of your parent teacher conference

So, it's time for your parent teacher conference. You're eager to meet face-to-face with your child's teacher, but you may be a little apprehensive as well. What if things aren't all gold stars and A pluses? Yes, you want to know the truth, but can you handle the truth?!

In order to make the most of this experience, it helps to do your homework. Think ahead about any concerns you may have and be prepared to share them with your child's teacher in an open and non-threatening way. Share important details about your child that the teacher may not know and that could help maximise your child's success in the classroom. Take advantage of the teacher's unique perspective to get a well-rounded picture of how your child is doing socially and emotionally as well as academically.

Let these tips from Scholastic be your guide and you'll be on your way to a productive parent teacher conference.

Before the Teacher Conference
Start preparing early. Don't wait until the night before to get organized. Create a folder at the beginning of the year in which you store test scores, big homework assignments, and your notes (about things your child has told you or any other topics you want to address).

Talk to your child. Ask how he or she's doing in class, what's going on during lunchtime, recess, and when he or she goes to special classes like music or gym.

During the Teacher Conference
Arrive early. With only a few precious minutes to spend, you don't want to be late. It will shorten your time with your child's teacher and affect her day's entire schedule.

Enter with the right attitude. The goal of both the teacher and the parent should be the success of the student, but sometimes parents have a hard time discussing tough issues. Rather than put the teacher on the defensive, arrive with a compliment to start the conference off on the right foot. ("My son is really enjoying the unit on space" or "We had a great time on the field trip.") Then address any concerns in a respectful way.

Find out the communication protocol. Don't let this be the only time you talk to your child's teacher. Ask how he or she likes to communicate, whether it's by e-mail, notes passed through a folder, or phone calls.

After the Teacher Conference
Follow up. If the teacher brings something to your attention that needs to be addressed with your child, take steps to put the plan in motion, whether it's helping with organizational skills, getting extra help, or addressing a social issue.

Update your child. Start with the positive things his or her teacher had to say, then fill him or her in on any concerns you and the teacher discussed. Explain how you can all work together to ensure your child has a successful year.

Contributed by Danyelle

Tuesday, September 13

HOW TO...organize with apps

With school back in full swing, organization is key for student success...and for parent sanity. To all you busy parents, we offer this round up of apps that will turn your smartphone into an organization super genius (and give you a some extra free time). 

Teux Deux takes the daily to-do list to a new level.  Tasks are organized by day and can be easily crossed off or dragged and dropped to another day. We love the clean layout and that Teux Deux is both a website and an app, allowing you to reference it at work and on the go. ($2.99 for iPhone) 

Awesome Note could not be more awesome...calendar, to-do list, organizer, digital filing cabinet, recipe book, and more. This little app does it all in style. ($3.99 for iPhone and iPad and there's a free lite version)

iRewardChart makes Chore Charts a breeze by allowing you to easily track each child's responsibilities and rewards in one convenient place. ($3.99 for iPhone, free for Android) 

RedRover has been called the "best of the best" in play date apps. This mom-designed app lets you invite people from all your contact lists into a private social network and shows you kid-friendly stops nearby to help you schedule the perfect play date on-the-go. (Free for iPhone) 

Happy organizing! 

Contributed by Alyssa