2008-01-24 / Front Page

School hears about the effects of energy drinks

School may bar some beverages
By Michaela Kennedy

The School Committee learned that new lines of alcoholic beverages are packaged to look like energy drinks at its Jan. 17 meeting. The committee agreed to discuss adopting an energy drink policy next month.

Laura Hosley, coordinator of the Jamestown Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force, and Rep. Bruce Long (R-Jamestown, Middletown) educated the School Committee about the dangerous ingredients found in many energy drinks.

"The more I learned about these, the more amazed I was," Hosley said about the stimulantfilled drinks.

Energy drinks are not regulated through the FDA, so ingredients are not listed on the can, according to Hosley. Companies that make energy drinks do not use traditional marketing. They use viral, or word-of-mouth, marketing techniques, through the Internet. Only four states do not sell beer in grocery stores, but some storeowners are fooled by the packaging. The alcoholic cans look similar to the non-alcoholic, and the ones containing alcohol are cheaper. "They have 6 to 8 percent alcohol, some of them higher," she noted.

Additionally, levels of sugar and caffeine are high, Hosley said. France, Denmark and Norway have banned energy drinks because of excessive amounts of caffeine that many contain. "They're not drinking it for the taste, they're drinking it for the high," according to Holsey. Adverse effects include dehydration, and a number of student athletes drink the beverages before or after exercise, she added. "Someday someone is going to die from this and it will be too late to do something."

Long pointed out that already the state legislature has passed bills on what can be sold on school grounds. He mentioned testimony heard from teenagers on the task force about how students bring the drinks into schools. The NCAA, as well as schools around the country, have already banned energy drinks, and he suggested the district consider similar action. "We want you to be the first school committee in Rhode Island to pass a ban," Long said.

On a side note, Long commented that cigars were not part of the bill that requires tobacco to be sold behind the cashier counter. Cigars are displayed on the front counter in a convenience store on Narragansett Avenue, and teenagers on the task force said they know kids who steal them. "Kids hollow out the cigars and stuff marijuana into them," Hosley added.

Committee member Bruce "B.J." Whitehouse said he was ready to take the presenters' advice and make a motion immediately. He asked if the committee were to ban energy drinks, "how would we know which ones we would ban?" Long responded that the legislature was ready to define guidelines for energy drinks. "If you put it on your agenda, we will come back with language for you."

Anne Wooley, a parent of a middle-school and a high school student, suggested considering an education piece about why a ban was important. "I am surprised and have heard it for the first time," Wooley commented.

In other business, the committee approved a resignation even though it did not fall into the category of a 90-day notice. A discussion ensued about why the policy existed if it was not enforced. Committee member Julia Held suggested a penalty for anyone who disregarded the policy. Superintendent Marsha Lukon noted that forcing a teacher to stay who was not interested in the classroom was unhealthy for the children. The committee agreed to review the policy at a later date.

In a discussion of a proposed policy on flyers, the committee discussed amending the language prohibiting "distribution of information of an advertising or promotional nature" to include information of a "political" nature. William "Bucky" Brennan voiced opposition to including the word political in the policy. "Who sets the boundary on what is political and what is not?" he asked, using the example of reminder notes to vote sent home with students before an election day. Committee chairwoman Cathy Kaiser defended the wording, saying the district could, at times, have a valid reason to send announcements home. Held also defended the word use, saying, "If you omit political, that's too broad a policy." The policy was passed, unchanged, with a 3-1 vote.

In the principal's report, Lukon thanked Director of Student Services Robert Fricklas for helping Jamestown to co-sponsor a fourday summer computing institute at the University of Rhode Island. The free program is designed to interest students with disabilities in pursuing higher education and careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Fricklas noted that he ran the program, which was sponsored by the U.S. Science Foundation, in the northern part of the state last year. "Students learn hands-on, develop their own LED batteries, and digitally produce designs," he explained. "The institute is designed to perk their interest in going into technical or scientific related fields."

Lukon went on to announce that the administration successfully used the new Connect-Ed messaging system to notify staff and parents of the school cancellation on Jan. 14.

"Teachers are happy because they do not have to do the call chain anymore," she added.

"We feel a whole lot better about our communication in emergency situations."

Lukon gave credit to Facilities Director Lewis Kitts. "Working with Lew is a pleasure. He's out there at 4 a.m. checking the roads," she noted.

In the principal's report, Kathy Almanzor and Carole Melucci reported that on Jan. 12 the seventh and eighth grade robotics enrichment class participated and placed in the First Lego League Robotics Championship at Roger Williams University. One of three teams, Team Kool, placed sixth.

Melucci also reported that Kelsey Coleman, a fourth grade student at Melrose Avenue school, won the Rhode Island Youth Art Month Promotional Postcard competition. Her design is slated to be printed on promotional postcards sent to superintendents and other dignitaries around the state.

The co-principals thanked the PTO for a donation of $200 for signs and cones for the Melrose Avenue drop-off and dismissal time. The new materials are used to reinforce the use of crosswalks and appropriate parking areas. Melucci voiced concern, however, that some drivers ignore the markers and maneuver cars between the cones. Fricklas agreed, adding, "I see them from my window looking out. It's a miracle there hasn't been an accident."

Almanzor noted a serious problem with unruly drivers. "Our bottom line becomes safety, with more children riding the bus and less parents dropping off, that would solve the problem. We need traffic control outside," she said, adding that the police have observed the problem. "Kids have to be safe."

The School Committee extended its condolences to the family of Gail O'Brien. Fricklas noted that O'Brien was a valued member of the administrative team who will be greatly missed.

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