Cool school tools

Trendy students toss the pencil and paper for the newest electronic gizmos

photo by Tom Angel

Remember Atari? Electronics maker Atari introduced its home video game system to a huge response in the early 1980s. The systems are now considered collector’s items.

Forget passing notes in class—this is the new millennium, and today’s students are using radio waves and tiny keyboards for the standard schoolyard rumor mill.

In the brave new world of the classroom, the must-have gadgets seem to have changed as much as the electronics industry that supplies so many of today’s most popular gadgets. So while their parents are checking their stocks on their ubiquitous Palm Pilots, their school-age kids are sending and receiving e-mails on the new text-receiving pagers clipped onto many of their belts.

There are new must-have toys and gadgets every year aimed at kids (remember Cabbage Patch Kids, sticker collections, transformers and Pokémon?), and this year two-way pagers, Dragonball Z and Digimon cartoon paraphernalia, and Game Boy Advanced systems have a lot of kids (and young adults) in a buying frenzy.

Just ask Software Etc. manager Steve Dean. He said he’s selling so many of the Game Boy Advanced systems that he can hardly keep them in stock.

“I get in, like, eight a week, and they’re out in the door as fast as they come in,” Dean said. “Those are really popular right now.”

MESSAGE MAN <br>Radio Shack sales associate Florentino Pano, right, says two-way messaging systems are selling fast, especially among teenage girls.

photo by Tom Angel

The Game Boy Advanced system, he said, is a hand-held gaming machine with a color screen that allows users to play video games wherever they are.

“Kids love them,” Dean said, adding that customers from ages 6 to 26 are buying the systems, which cost $100 a pop.

Although it’s mostly boys who seem to want the new Game Boys, Dean said they’re increasingly marketed toward girls.

“They come in all different colors,” he said. “There’s even a pink one. The girls who come in, they mostly buy that one.”

Thomas Allen, a salesman at Toys R Us, agreed that electronic toys seem to be the top sellers this year.

"[The Game Boys] come in, they go right out,” he said. “Everyone wants one. … Pokémon is pretty passé now.”

Local store managers report that the new Game Boy Advanced systems are selling as fast as they come in.

photo by Tom Angel

While it’s still mainly boys who long for Game Boy Advanced systems, it’s mainly teenage girls who are going crazy for new two-way messengers. The pagers, which were introduced last year, allow users to send and receive text messages and emails via a pager. Florentino Pano, a sales associate at Radio Shack, said they are very popular right now.

“They’re pretty handy,” he said. “People bring them to school, and they can send messages from anywhere to their friends, like ‘Meet me for lunch’ or ‘Did you hear about…?’ They like them.”

At a cost of $160, plus activation and monthly service fees, the pagers aren’t cheap. Still, said Pano, teenagers (mostly girls between the ages of 14 and 18, with some college students) are buying them up as fast as they hit the shelves.

As popular as some of the new electronic toys and tools may be, they’re not allowed at any of the schools in the Chico Unified School District. Beverly Patrick, an office manager at Marigold Elementary School who has a 16-year-old and a sixth-grader, said that when teachers notice “non-school-related items,” they’re taken away until the end of the day.

“A lot of it is safety,” Patrick said. “We don’t want kids to bring these expensive toys to school and then have something happen to them or have them stolen.”

She said it doesn’t happen often that students break the rules, “but it does happen.”

Patrick said one trend she’s noticed that her sixth-grade son has taken to is collecting the paraphernalia from the cartoon “Dragonball Z.”

“It’s pretty popular with the younger kids right now," she said. "They want the action figures and the toys and the little figurines … just as long as it’s not Pokémon. He says that Pokémon is for babies."