Learning Problems? UT’s KLASS Center Ready to Expand Client Load

KNOXVILLE — As the new school year begins, the Korn Learning, Assessment and Social Skill (KLASS) Center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is prepared to see students, from preschool to college, who have academic or social problems that prevent them from succeeding in school.

The KLASS Center — administered through the School Psychology Program in the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling within the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences — was launched early last year after the college received a $2 million gift from UT supporters Pam and Tom Korn to open a center dedicated to helping students who are struggling in school.

Much of the past year was spent laying the groundwork for the center to begin its work. Director Brian Wilhoit began work in January 2009.

Wilhoit is a clinical professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling. He received his doctorate in school psychology from UT and is a licensed psychologist. Prior to joining UT, he was the director of school psychology services at Cherokee Health Systems.

The KLASS Center, split between the fourth and fifth floors of the Jane & David Bailey Education Complex on Volunteer Boulevard, has been seeing a limited number of patients. But with the start of the new school year, the center is ready to expand its patient load.

“Our focus is on learning and academic skill areas,” Wilhoit said, adding that as many as 15 percent of all children ages 5 to 18 have some sort of learning problem. “The center draws on the nationally recognized research of the faculty members of UT’s school psychology program in assessment and academic interventions to inform clinical practice.”

“Our niche,” he said, “is that we provide an alternative to school evaluations, which are geared solely for disability determination. We also can help with students who might otherwise fall between the cracks because they don’t have typically diagnosed learning disabilities.”

A typical case might involve a child who is falling behind in class, getting bad grades and complaining that he no longer likes school — without obvious reason. The child’s parents are frustrated and don’t understand what’s happening.

In cases such as this, Wilhoit said the physician or parent refers the child for evaluation.

Faculty and doctoral students within UT’s school psychology program evaluate the student using a variety of tools, including IQ tests, cognitive processing screenings, and reading, math and writing skill tests.

Depending on the problem pinpointed, the student might be referred back to the physician to explore medical treatments or the student might be referred to tutoring for academic difficulties. Center staff also might suggest parents request their child’s school to make specific classroom modifications, such as providing the student with extended time to take tests or providing the student with books on CD when there appears to be a disability.

The KLASS Center’s services are provided for a fee; third-party reimbursements are not accepted.

“Typically, insurance would not cover services related to academics in the private sector,” Wilhoit said. “However, if a patient’s insurance recognizes the service as a medical necessity, we can provide an invoice they can file with their insurance company.”

The center is coordinating with various campus offices, including the Student Success Center, athletics, the Counseling Center and the Office of Disability Service, to provide services to UT students. These services are not covered by the student activities fee, however; students do have to pay for services.

Since the center is a training facility for advanced doctoral students and is nonprofit in nature, an evaluation, which typically requires at least one or two visits, is $500 – which, Wilhoit said, is substantially less than parents might have to pay a private practitioner. There is a sliding fee scale for low-income clients.

In time, Wilhoit said, he hopes the center will be able to provide behavioral and academic treatment and also conduct research to develop and evaluate services that build academic and social skills.

The Korns, who contributed the money to open the center, moved to East Tennessee from Memphis after retirement. Tom Korn was the founder and CEO of Premier Concepts, a sales and marketing company based in Bentonville, Ark.; Pam Korn spent 32 years as an international flight attendant for Delta Air Lines. The Korns’ son, now an adult, has had to overcome learning disabilities.

The gift was part of the Campaign for Tennessee, a multiphase fund-raising effort that will extend through 2011.

For more information about the KLASS Center or to inquire about services, call (865) 974-8145 or visit http://klass.tennessee.edu/home.html.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu)