Soda and Water

DPS learns which schools are thirstiest for its Pepsi contract.

Figures generated by the district show that most schools sell approximately the same amount of Pepsi stuff: about one drink per student per week, give or take a cola or two. If there's any variation, Smith says, it's that those students most able to afford the drinks -- i.e., the most affluent student bodies -- buy them.

That's true -- sort of. The district's numbers show that Kennedy is DPS's thirstiest high school: On average, each of its 1,660 students quaff 1.8 drinks per week, totaling just under $3,000 spent weekly on Pepsi products. While the one-third of the Kennedy students receiving a free or reduced lunch is under the district average of 45 percent, it's not exactly DPS's most affluent high school, either. Using the 57-cents-from-each-dollar profit rule, Kennedy students contribute just over $1,700 per week to their school.

The district's least-poverty-stricken student population goes to East High School, where fewer than a quarter receive free or reducedprice lunches. Yet an East student is the least likely among Denver's high schoolers to purchase Pepsi from a school vending machine, buying on average .8 bottles per week. That works out to about $1,443 of pocket change spent each week -- $822 of which East keeps.

Statistically speaking, DPS's poorest student body is at Manual High School, in Park Hill. Yet Manual students are the second-biggest consumer of school-based Pepsi drinks, snapping up a weekly average of 1.4 drinks per student. That comes out to weekly spending of about $1,560 -- a lot of quarters for a student body in which nearly eight out of ten kids require a reduced or free lunch. Manual keeps $890 of its kids' money.

Also unusually parched are students at Washington Park's South High School, who keep pace with Manual's 1.4 average weekly buy. Because of the greater number of students, however, South earns more money from its students: Out of the approximately $2,100 South High kids spend on Pepsi each week, the school gets to keep about $1,200. Although the school's population needs fewer free and reduced lunches than the district average, four out of ten kids still qualify.

Of course, the numbers are not perfectly precise. It could be that most of the Pepsi is being drained by DPS students who aren't on a free-lunch program. Teachers desperate for a mid-afternoon caffeine buzz could be hogging more than their fair share of cola, too.

It's also true that many of the kids buying soda inside a Denver public school might still spend their quarters on Pepsi outside of school. (DPS officials point out that the machines keeps kids on campus instead of having them wander off for a cold one.) But as any marketing firm can tell you, putting the product in the consumer's face does make a difference -- or else what's the point of advertising?

And some schools may be pushing their Pepsi a little too aggressively. This past November, Guzman and a concerned constituent took a tour of a couple of local schools to view their vending machines. Bryant-Webster Elementary had its vending machine not in the teacher's lounge, where it was supposed to be, but in the hallway, available for its young students. Later in the day, Guzman also was able to buy a soda at Horace-Mann Middle School just after lunch -- two hours before the machine was supposed to be dispensing Pepsi.

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