Off Limits

The joy of Pepsi

Apparently no one ever taught Thomas Jefferson High School geography teacher Alan Chimento not to bite the hand that feeds him -- or provides him with soda pop. Because despite a 1998 contract granting Pepsi exclusive rights to sell its products in Denver Public Schools, Chimento tried to run a decidedly anti-Pepsi advertisement in the May issue of Jeffersonian Magazine, a student-produced biannual literary publication.

Chimento, who has made a name for himself over the last few years as a DPS rabble-rouser, explains that he'd been concerned for quite a while about the growing girth of his students. It's no coincidence, he believes, that adolescent obesity has increased at the same time that soda makers have targeted a younger, thirstier generation. (Diet Pepsi's new slogan: Think Young. Drink Young.) "We teach nutrition classes, and then we go and serve kids this bad stuff," he says. "It's like, 'We want you to be healthy, but can you buy some Pepsi on your way to lunch?'"

Since Chimento has a habit of mixing politics with his geography lessons -- instead of simply teaching kids where other countries are, he educates them about the eating and consumer habits of those countries' citizens and the politics that go along with them -- it should come as no surprise that many of his students become activists themselves. So when some of them asked Chimento to run an ad warning their classmates about the potential ills of too much Pepsi-drinking, he obliged and came up with a slogan of his own -- "Don't get played by Pepsi" -- followed by eight bullet points, including this kicker: "Don't make Pepsi rich while you become a fat, toothless diabetic with kidney trouble."

But after Chimento submitted the ad and $25 to the Jeffersonian's faculty advisor, he was told that TJ principal Ann Bailey, who reviewed the ads for appropriateness, had deemed his unsuitable. (He got his $25 back.) When his students learned that the ad wouldn't run, they decided to get their message out another way: They posted stickers about the health effects of soft drinks on the school's Pepsi machines. "Within an hour, they were torn off," Chimento says.

Although Chimento never got to talk to Bailey about her reasons for yanking the ad -- "Every time I went to her office, there was a line out the door," he says -- he assumes Pepsi's five-year contract with DPS was behind it. In return for allowing Pepsi to be the district's "official sponsor" and sole soft-drink brand, DPS was guaranteed more than $5.4 million.

Westword didn't get to talk to Bailey, either, but DPS spokesman Mark Stevens, who did the talking for TJ's principal, insists the Pepsi contract had nothing to do with the rejection of Chimento's ad. "This was a literary magazine; it was not set up to run paid political editorials," he says. "There were ample forums for Mr. Chimento to express his views, including a letter to the editor in the TJ newspaper."

Pepsi's contract with DPS has influenced decisions in the past, however. When Channel One, a broadcast company that provides commercial-heavy news programming in schools, wanted to sign a three-year contract with DPS, Pepsi objected because Channel One advertises Coke. For that reason -- and, yes, because the television segments would have cut into class time -- DPS chose not to enter into the contract.

And the Pepsi-ad issue was not Chimento's first run-in with DPS. After encouraging students at West High to speak out about poor conditions at their school, he was transferred to George Washington ("Lesson Unplanned," May 13, 1999); he later left that school for TJ. This probably won't be Chimento's last cause, either. This summer he plans to approach his state representative, Andrew Romanoff, about sponsoring legislation that would prohibit school districts from entering into exclusive contracts with companies without first holding public hearings.

Until then, kids in DPS just gotta have Pepsi.

Water world: It's going to be a tough summer for kids and liquids of all kinds. In an effort to save water during what's shaping up to be one of Colorado's worst droughts, Denver's Department of Parks and Recreation last month decided not to run the city's fourteen fountains -- a decision that disappointed children and dogs all over town.

The only bright spot in the announcement was that the city did plan to keep open the beautiful Gates Interactive Water Feature (it's a feature, not a fountain) in City Park. Unfortunately, when parks employees went to turn on the feature, they discovered that the vault, which contains all of the display's computerized equipment, was flooded.

"It's not going to be operable," says parks spokeswoman Judy Montero, adding that she isn't sure how much it will cost to fix but that "it will take us the whole season to get it up. We're real disappointed."

Montero also acknowledges that most of the city's fountains had actually been filled in order to test them -- before they were then drained in accordance with the decision not to run them this summer. But since the fountains mainly use recycled water, didn't draining the already filled fountains defeat any water-conserving purpose?

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