By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
It's Tamagotchi time for swimming coach Merri Wada,
who tends to the electronic pets left in her care at
the University of Hawaii pool.

Electronic pets
peep their last at
isle schools

Some say the toys teach
the need for daily care and discipline, but
schools prefer they stay at home

By Debra Barayuga

Oahu schools have silenced the peeping Tamagotchi, at least temporarily.

The electronic chicks have been chirping and distracting students and teachers while classes are in session, prompting schools -- public and private -- to ban them.

The egg-shaped key chains, which cost from about $19.95 to $27, made their debut in Oahu stores in late April. The chicks now have been joined by Tamagotchi dragons, dinosaurs, cats and monkeys. The game tests how well and how long owners can keep the electronic pet alive.

Not since the pog -- or milk cap -- craze that swept through the schools a few years ago have students seen anything like it.

"They were real attention-getters originally," said Barbara Jamile, supervisor of grades 3 and 4 at Punahou School. When Tamagotchi started appearing on campus in early May, at least a third of the students in kindergarten through sixth grade had them -- about seven or eight per classroom.

Almost all schools have rules banning electronic items such as Walkmans, compact disc players and hand-held video games from campus because of the distractions they cause and the potential for loss or theft. "We also ban trading cards for the same reason," Jamile said. "Those things are for outside-school activities."

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Caretakers must feed and clean up after the virtual pets.

After a couple of the eggs disappeared and a few were confiscated in the classrooms, Punahou officials put out a reminder about the school's policy banning electronic items and encouraging students to leave the Tamagotchi at home, Jamile said. "They've been pretty responsive about that."

In the public schools, Tamagotchi could come under a list of prohibited items that schools consider as "contraband."

The administration at Mililani Uka reminded students about its policy before the Tamagotchi had a chance to take over, said vice principal Duwayne Abe. "Once students get comfortable bringing it, it's hard not to bring."

He's spotted at least a dozen on campus and is currently holding two of them until school lets out for the summer or the parents claim them. His sixth-grade son initially protested, saying his Tamagotchi was going to die. "You don't bring your cat or dog to school," Abe told him.

Deb Jensen, a physics teacher at Iolani, wore one around her neck for 17 days until she got sick of it.

Iolani also banned the Tamagotchi about a week after its debut, and those who got caught had to pay $1 ransom for its return, she said. She's seen at least four or five in a class of 65 students.

"When it first came out, everyone was all excited," she said. "It's fading now."

Bill Lee, dean of students at Iolani, said the school set a two-week waiting period before students could get back their Tamagotchi. One in his safekeeping has since died. "I let it beep," he said.

Parent Bruce Yamamoto sheepishly admitted to baby-sitting his daughter Nicole's hot purple Tamagotchi as she swam laps at the University of Hawaii pool Friday.

Because his daughter's school doesn't allow Tamagotchi on campus, she has Dad take it to work. At last check, the chick was 9 years old, 31 ounces. Tamagotchi grow one year per Earth day.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
The Tamagotchi are never far away, as their needs
have become a priority for children.

The toy doesn't distract Yamamoto at work because he nurtures it before sticking it into a desk drawer. It goes off at least every two hours and takes less than a minute to feed it, clean up its poop or give it some exercise.

Bandai America Inc., manufacturers of Tamagotchi, says the toy teaches kids responsibility.

"In her case, it's working," Yamamoto said. Nicole has asked for a pet in the past, but has reconsidered. "She's more aware of how much time it takes to care for something on a day-to-day basis, and why discipline is important."

Nicole's swim coach, Merri Wada, often carries a chain loaded with the colorful Tamagotchi while putting her charges to work. Parents say she can juggle a stopwatch in one hand and deftly change diapers or feed the pets her students beg her to watch.

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