“Pocket rockets,” those personal digital assistants (PDAs) that put more communications firepower in the palm of your hand than NASA had to launch its early space missions, represent a new communications frontier for school leaders.

While educators who fit the marketing profile of “early adopters” are already using handheld computers to manage their time and ease the back strain caused by carrying bulging leather planners, most still haven’t hopped on board the wireless revolution.

It’s time for a second look. With capabilities expanding and prices dropping, pen-entry handheld devices have enormous public relations potential.

“For marketers, the wireless and mobile use of PDAs presents an opportunity to reach consumers out in the world on a device that’s very personal,” writes Deborah Kong in “A Handful of Marketing Opportunities” for WirelessAdWatch.

Cybiko, for example, is now marketing a wireless handheld device for teens that offers everything from traditional calendar and contact organizers to an MP3 player, Spanish-English dictionary, and a multilingual phrase book–all for just $99.

Packed with more than 10 software products–including free games that can be downloaded from the company’s web site–and fully upgradable, the Cybiko Xtreme costs less than most teens’ tennis shoes, school ensembles, and television sets.

With no airtime fees, teens can send and receive pictures, music, text files (homework, anyone?), and eMails and can dive into chat rooms–making the much-heralded “digital divide” seem more a matter of priorities than economics for most families, community groups, and school systems.

And, while Palm Pilots and Handspring Visors still own the greatest market share, Casio, Hewlett-Packard, Asky, Sony, and Compaq offer models ranging in price from about $130 to more than $500–still pricey for a planner, but inexpensive for the equivalent of a wireless, mobile personal computer.

Unlike earlier versions, these new models allow users to do more than one thing at a time, thanks to improved operating software developed by Microsoft. Now you can listen to your favorite MP3s or view video clips from school events while charting out your strategic plan or developing the high school’s new block schedule.

School districts in Texas are already using handheld computers to take attendance, record grades, exchange business cards, organize lesson plans, check eMail, and communicate with parents.

Using PDA software currently on the market, educators can keep track of coursework, grades, class details, lesson plans, parent contacts, notes, and exam schedules for up to 15 classes at a time.

And, while some recruiters still go to college fairs armed with logo-emblazoned highlighters, tote bags, and mouse pads, tech-savvy school districts are offering handhelds and laptops along with signing bonuses and other incentives.

Expansion slots and add-on devices on newer models mean users can turn their PDA into a digital phone, video game player, or digital camera. By signing up with Omnisky, GoAmerica, Palm.Net, Yada Yada, or some other wireless service, educators can access the web, download applications, and use eMail–anywhere, anytime.

For another $100, administrators, staff developers, and other meeting warriors who are tired of lugging their laptops around but hate tapping in notes with a stylus can purchase a folding, pocket-sized keyboard that attaches to most handheld computers.

This means that from as little as $200 to $800, educators and students can have access to a fully-functioning personal computer with built-in internet capabilities.

Not only is this great news for those who confront the digital divide on a daily basis, it also means PDAs are beginning to reach a more mainstream market–putting a new and affordable channel of communication with parents literally in the palm of the hand.

Imagine attending a championship football game or Odyssey of the Mind tournament and being able to eMail event photos to PTA leaders and your school web site–all before you leave the auditorium. Or, what about using a PDA to link homeschoolers with their traditional school counterparts?

Think about the efficiencies that could occur when teachers can use their PDAs to take attendance and then send it electronically to school and district offices.

Then take it a step further, and think about the implications of eMailing parents at their homes, places of work, or digital pagers to let them know their son or daughter performed well on an exam, was selected for a school honor, or did (or didn’t) show up for class.

Right now, the wireless revolution is more hype than reality, but it is coming nonetheless. School leaders need to get in the game and find out how to use these new technologies to manage their relationships with parents, teachers, and other community stakeholders. PDAs and other new technologies are quickly becoming part of the mainstream. And, as Cybiko’s marketing success already shows, the Net Generation–and our future school parents–will be fully wired.