Seventh-graders, legislator come together on assignment with real-world connection

Ciana Chirkout, a seventh-grade student at City Hill Middle School in Naugatuck, gives her presentation on whether energy drinks should be banned for people under the age of 16 Dec. 20 at the school. State Rep. Liz Linehan visited the classroom to listen to the presentations. Linehan is looking to work with students to draft legislation regulating energy drinks. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — City Hill Middle School seventh-grader Amy Morrissey says energy drinks are clearly unhealthy and dangerous — the risks are much too high for children.

She was among 350 students tasked to act as a lobbyist to convince the state’s legislature whether to pass a law banning the sale of energy drinks to children under 16, and one of six chosen to make presentations to the legislators.

“Part of the problem with energy drinks is how they are digested,” Morrissey said.

According to her research, the most common ailment related to drinking energy drinks is heart problems.

An energy drink is a compound (two or more elements or ingredients that are chemically combined), fellow presenter Sahirah Rivera said.

“So when energy drink companies are talking about all the good ingredients that are inside, once they make the drink, all the good ingredients are also mixing with the bad ingredients, so it loses its effect on the body and instead have the effects of the bad ingredients,” Rivera said.

Rivera’s research shows sodas are healthier than energy drinks. A serving of Coca Cola has 27 grams of sugar and 23 grams of caffeine, while a can of Red Bull or Monster energy drinks has 27 grams of sugar and 80 grams of caffeine, and a can of Rockstar energy drink contains 30 grams of sugar and 80 grams of caffeine.

Luke Deitelbaum said natural ingredients such as ginseng and sugar in energy drinks are in the form of compounds. Taurine, a natural compound common in energy drinks, is made synthetically, he said in his presentation.

State Rep. Liz Linehan takes a question from a student during her visit to City Hill Middle School in Naugatuck on Dec. 20. Linehan listened to students as they have a presentation about energy drinks and is going to work with kids to draft legislation regulating energy drinks. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

The students presented their research to state Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, who visited the class last Thursday for the discussion.

“Legislatively, I believe it is absolutely capable for these kids to affect change somehow,” she said. “I believe 100 percent that we can write a bill, at least get a public hearing and have these kids’ testimonies be heard as to why they support the legislation.”

As a member of the Children’s Committee in the General Assembly, she said it’s important for youth to have their voices heard and to let them know that adults are listening.

Science teacher Katrina Spina said the students worked on the projects for three months. The goal was to show them why they are learning such subjects and that what they’re being taught in science class has a direct connection to the world.

Before writing a bill, the students will work with Linehan on writing a letter to the American Academy of Pediatrics about the importance of educating children and families on the effects of consuming energy drinks.