Parents Education Network

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Parents Education Network (PEN) is a coalition of parents working with educators, students and the community to help students with learning disabilities succeed. Julie Erfle, PEN Phoenix treasurer and Linda Parkis, PEN Phoenix secretary talk about the organization.

Jose Cardenas: Parents education network known as PEN is a coalition of parents working with educators and the community to help bring success to students with learning disabilities. Joining me to talk about the organization are Julie Erfle, treasurer and Linda Parkis, secretary. Both are with the Parents Education Network, Phoenix affiliate. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about PEN. As I understand it, it's a national organization based out of San Francisco. Tell me a little bit about the organization.

Julie Erfle: That organization was started much in the same way we started our affiliate. It was a group of moms who had children with learning and attention differences and they found the road to be very frustrating, very lonely, not a lot of great, credible information out there and they got together and they decided, you know, we need to do something more. We need to educate the community. We need to collaborate with our teachers. We need to help students. We need to empower them to be able to speak up for themselves and really use their strengths to move forward and so it's a fantastic organization. That organization has been going for 10 years. And we are excited to be one of their first affiliates.

Jose Cardenas: Now, Linda I think people would be surprised to know that there's a need for more information on this. You hear about this all the time. You hear stories about people who had learning disabilities and have dealt with and have overcome that disadvantage and yet, you know, we were talking offscreen about all the misinformation that's out there. How is that?

Linda Parkis: There's also a lot of misinformation. I think there's also a problem with misidentification and even though the schools are required to deal with this on an individualized basis, sometimes parents don't know what they are looking for; that their child has an issue. It might be overlooked as misbehavior. It might be overlooked as just really being difficult or you may not realize it's an attention difference or that it's a learning difference. And our goal is to really bring some of the research-based information to parents and to educators and to really create a collaboration between the two and basically get the information out so these students can be better identified and the parents have resources to look to.

Jose Cardenas: So how are we doing in Phoenix overall in this area?

Linda Parkis: I think it varies across the board. It really depends on where you're at. It depends on what resources are available to you. We have some great private schools in the Scottsdale area that have worked with learning differences and are available and we actually have some great public schools that do great jobs with these different types of students, but if you don't know what you're looking for, you may not know that your child has an issue. We are trying to bring the information to all different communities. We're trying to spread the word, to get a lot of this research to the parents so they know what some of the best approaches are, they know what some of the newest information is and we've done that primarily this year. We're starting out with a great speaker series. We're bringing some experts who have really looked into the different areas and have some expertise in things like dyslexia or attention deficit disorders and things that tend to be pretty common with some of our children.

Jose Cardenas: I understand the first event you had was in August.

Julie Erfle: Correct.

Jose Cardenas: One of those speaker series that Linda was talking about. How does such a small organization as yours get the word out to the big city with hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren? What are you doing?

Julie Erfle: Well, we're starting with organizations like yours, with this. This is very helpful to us, of course. We do have -- we are on social media so you can find us, of course, on Facebook at PEN Phoenix as well as Twitter. We are trying to work with schools. We will shortly have what we're calling our school advocates that will go into schools to try to spread the information about the speaker series as well as continuing education for teachers. We are starting out much the same way the national organization started out. A lot of it is word of mouth. A lot of it is being spread through people who come to the event. They find out about it. They tell other people who are in the same situation and then, of course, we rely on the media as well to help spread the message.

Jose Cardenas: And what is the message?

Julie Erfle: The message is really is that there is -- there's hope out there. And that if you have a child who has a learning or attention difference, it's not because they're lazy. It's not because they have a low I.Q. It's not the end of the world. It's really -- they have so much to offer. They have all these great strengths and if you learn how to tap into those strengths and you learn how to approach your child and learn how to approach the school in a collaborative message that really drills into what the child can do, focusing on those strengths, then you have a much different approach, a much different outlook on where you're going, moving forward.

Linda Parkis: And I think it's really important to remember that a lot of these kids are not just faced with dyslexia or ADHD or some other learning difference. They actually are quite bright. There's a large percentage of these children who are called twice exceptional and that means they're gifted and that they may have a deficit somewhere else and, unfortunately, one may mask the other and to truly play into the strengths of that child, you need to recognize both the giftedness and the deficit and that's really hard to do, and it's one of the goals we're trying to do is to reach the twice-exceptional community because I think it's even harder when you have this child that has a little bit of both to know how to approach your child's education.

Jose Cardenas: And what kind of reception are you getting from the school?

Linda Parkis: We're very new so we're getting the message out to the schools. Most of the reception we've had has been quite positive. It's something that I think we're working with the schools, we're working with educators. So I think everybody is working towards the same goal and we're really trying to bring again research-backed information into the schools and create an environment of collaboration. So for the most part it's been very positive.

Jose Cardenas: Now, what about the Hispanic community? Are there special outreach efforts there?

Linda Parkis: We definitely -- one of our real goals, this is a problem that affects everybody. The statistics are 1 in 5, 20% of our community and that doesn't matter where you come from, where you're born, what language you speak. It's across the board, and it's something that everyone needs to learn to recognize so what we're trying to do at, for instance, our next event is ben fosse, a well-known dyslexia advocate is going to be translated. It will be presented both in Spanish and English and we're going to try to do moving forward in all of our events.

Jose Cardenas: And that event's coming up at the end of September, is that right?

Julie Erfle: September 30th, which will help kick off dyslexia awareness month, which is the month of October.

Jose Cardenas: Is there any charge for people to go?

Julie Erfle: There is a small charge, however, if that provides an issue for any family, we will waive that charge. And they can find that on the website, as well.

Jose Cardenas: And last question, how do people get involved if they want to support your efforts?

Julie Erfle: Come to the website,, sign up, be a member. Volunteer, of course we are looking for donations, as well. We are an all-volunteer organization and so all of the money that we raise will go back into the programming that we provide, such as the speaker series, such as the safe group for teens, such as the continuing education classes for teachers.

Jose Cardenas: Well, best of luck to both of you in your efforts and good luck on the event in September and thanks for joining us.

Julie Erfle:Treasurer, Parents Education Network Phoenix; Linda Parkis:Secretary, Parents Education Network Phoenix;

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