Each week, about seven middle school girls on Vinalhaven meet after school in the computer room, wired and ready to go. No, not wired on Red Bull and snacks–but wired, as in connected to Zoey’s Room, a model online education program for 10- to 14-year-old girls to encourage their interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Developed by Platform Shoes Forum based in Rockland on the fourth floor of the Island Institute, Zoey’s Room is a national online community serving urban, rural and island girls all over the country.

Eleven-year-old Kassandra Hopkins of Vinalhaven says what she enjoys most about Zoey’s Room is meeting new girls of all different ages from over the country in the chat room. As most studies prove, girls first get interested in technology by using the communication tools, such as chat rooms and message boards. Only Zoey’s Room has taken it a step further to protect every girl who is a member; the chat room and message board are moderated and ZR staff read chat logs every day to ensure there is no cyberbullying and no inappropriate behavior.

Blake Reidy, 12, echoes her fellow ZR club members’ enthusiasm for different features of the website. What she likes most about Zoey’s Room are the monthly chats with Fab Females, who are female professionals in STEM that ZR picks a new fab female every month to chat live with the girls. “They are really interesting to talk to because they know about science so I learned a lot,” said Reidy. In fact, Zoey’s Room recently introduced Fab Female Diane Cowen, Ph.D., a Maine lobster scientist with the Lobster Conservancy to chat with the girls, where she declared that Mainers were the best lobster conservers in the world. Many of the girls on Vinalhaven responded proudly that their dads, moms and even grandparents were lobster fishermen.

Recently, The Island Institute and Platform Shoes Forum (PSF) have announced a partnership to provide 100 free ZR memberships to Maine island girls through grants from Rocking Moon Foundation, The Davis Family Foundation and The Sunshine Lady Foundation. “Part of our multicultural focus is to connect rural girls with city girls, island girls with mainland girls and girls from every ethnic background as a way to prepare them with 21st century skills,” said Erin Reilly, Executive Director of PSF.

That’s great news for the Vinalhaven girls who would love to see more island girls participate. In a joint essay the girls wrote about Zoey’s Room they said: “We are able to learn about math and science in a creative, interesting and fun way. As island girls, Zoey’s Room allows us to talk to people from different places, and get new ideas and opinions, because where we live we know everyone. Zoey’s Room lets us get a look at the `outside’ world.”

To learn more or sign up your daughter to Zoey’s Room go to www.islandinstitute.org and click on the ZR link halfway through the page. Island girls are eligible for a free membership.