Past, Present, and Future
Ricks Center at the University of Denver was founded in 1984 and was then known as
the University Center for Gifted Young Children. The school grew from a doctoral summer
project organized by the school's founder, Dr. Norma Lu Hafenstein, who still serves
as the current Director of Ricks Center. In 1984, Dr. Hafenstein developed a summer
session for young gifted children at the University of Denver. The children were brought
together for enriched, thematic activities designed to promote a supportive learning
environment for gifted children.
Over the years, the program has grown into a school serving approximately 250 children from three years of age through the eighth grade. Faculty at the school has changed from graduate students to full-time, experienced, certified classroom teachers, specialists in content area, and administrators. The University of Denver continues to provide faculty consultants, fundraising support, mentorships, and classroom opportunities for Ricks Center students. The leadership and support of Chancellor Daniel L. Ritchie provided the foundation and inspiration for continued growth and the pursuit of excellence. Chancellor Robert Coombe continues to provide support for Ricks Center as an integral part of the University of Denver. Developments at Ricks Center in recent years have included the establishment of Ricks Center Board in 1994 and accreditation by the North Central Association in 1997.
As the student body changed, so did the needs of Ricks Center. A major fundraising
drive in 1990 resulted in funding for a new facility. The Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation,
Mrs. Ruth O.W. Johnson, current families, and several anonymous major donors were
essential to the success of the drive. In November 1991, Ricks Center for Gifted Children
was dedicated and named after Alta Merle Ricks, the major benefactress. The new addition
was completed in 1996, adding ten classrooms. The new facility was designed by architects
who encouraged the children to contribute their ideas, and today it stands as a reflection
of the unique learning needs of its students. The school now enjoys a building designed
specifically for educating gifted young people. Classrooms, a science and visual arts
laboratory, library, foreign language labs, a multi-purpose room (for physical education,
drama, music), and administrative office space are all housed in one building. Outdoor
playgrounds are located on the site, and students also have access to many University
of Denver facilities.
The current facilities serve approximately 250 students and 45 faculty and staff.
The Early Childhood wing houses one Preschool, two Prekindergarten, and two Kindergarten
classes, along with an open space for the atelierista. These students also have a
playground designed specifically for young gifted children. The grounds sport playhouses,
a flower and vegetable garden, a greenhouse, and multiple surfaces for varied play.
Six Primary classrooms support the learning needs of the first through fourth graders.
Large classroom spaces with various amenities encourage each class to establish its
own personality and make each unit come to life. The Upper School wing is divided
into two distinct groups: two fifth- and sixth-grade self-contained classrooms and
one large team of seventh and eighth graders. Content specialists in music, art, languages,
and physical education have classrooms dedicated to their use. The Primary and Upper
School students have access to a large playground with multiple playing surfaces and
equipment. Technology, including laptops and SMARTboards, is available for students
of all ages in age-appropriate and need-based situations.
Ricks Center for Gifted Children accepts the challenge of meeting the needs of gifted children in the 21st Century. Goals for the future include expanding and maintaining a model of the optimal learning environment for gifted children; increasing and sustaining access for eligible students; and attracting, retaining, and developing outstanding faculty and administration.