Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Ricks Center tailors education to individual students

Since 1992, the University of Denver has graduated more than 30,000 students with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. It has also graduated more than 200 13- and 14- year-olds.

DU’s young students attend the Ricks Center for Gifted Children, which serves some 275 students from pre-K through eighth grade. Founded by Norma Lu Hafenstein, the school began in 1984 as a month-long summer program for two dozen 4- and 5-year-olds; it became the University Center for Gifted Young Children later that year.

The first year was a success, and the school grew by one grade each year.

In 1991, Alta Merle Ricks, the widow of a wealthy Oklahoma oilman, donated $500,000 to help construct a building. The school, located at 2040 S. York St. on the DU campus, was renamed in her honor.

“Mrs. Ricks just fell in love with the concept of the school and the children, and then they fell in love with her,” Hafenstein says.

The Ricks concept calls on teachers to design educational plans for individual students, who are grouped in classrooms based on learning style and peer group relationships.

In 2004, the school’s thematic, integrated curriculum model received the Excellence in Curriculum award from the National Association of Gifted Children and is being used by other schools in the United States, Europe, China and Australia. Tuition varies by grade level, and need-based scholarships are available.

“The curriculum at the Ricks Center is designed to address the whole child,” Hafenstein says. “We focus on their emotional, intellectual, physical and social needs.”

In 1992, the first class of three eighth-grade students graduated from the Ricks Center.

“Our alumni have great success stories,” says Hafenstein, noting that 1995 Ricks graduate Hollis Considine will graduate from Harvard Law School this year.

Alta Merle Ricks died in 2005, and although her absence is felt deeply, Hafenstein says, the school she loved has continued to thrive.

See for more about the Ricks Center.

This article originally appeared in The Source, March 2006.

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