The Ricks Center for Gifted Children, a preschool through grade 8 model school on the University of Denver campus and part of the Morgridge College of Education (MCE), is gearing up for the new school year and excited to capitalize on its model Innovation Space.

The Ricks Innovation Space, originally developed over the summer of 2017, came to life in response to overwhelming support from the Ricks community. Engaged parents in the Ricks Community Association (RCA) headed up a fundraising drive through the annual Gala. The MCE technology team saw the Daniels College of Business Innovation Center and decided to assist in additional funding toward the creation of an innovation space for a younger audience at Ricks.

Alexandra Struzziero was hired as the Innovation and Technology specialist at Ricks, and in collaboration with Josh Davies, MCE Technology Specialist and Website Administrator, developed blueprints for the space.

“We had a specific challenge because we needed to make a space where creativity and innovation is encouraged, but also make it specifically applicable to be used in an elementary school setting,” said Davies.

Anne Sweet, Director of Ricks, reached out to contacts at other independent schools, and Struzziero, and Davies toured several in order to gather ideas.

The final Innovation Space was designed specifically for Ricks, specifically for gifted students, and specifically with their unique needs in mind. Over the course of the last academic year, Struzziero and teachers facilitated the use of the space, and children used their creativity to launch it to the next level.

One student in particular, Quinn London, took to the space and expanded her thirst for education outside the traditional classroom setting. She asked for a 3-D printer for Christmas, and once her dad taught her how to solder, she took her tools to school and taught her class in the Innovation Space.

According to Quinn’s father, Brian, “the Innovation Space has really allowed her to grow and embrace this side of her education.”

Struzziero continues to build the capacity of the Innovation Space, integrating it with the curriculum while leaving room for students and teachers to explore through collaboration and origianlity.  She is ready to start this fall with a better idea of how to tap into students’ passions in innovation and technology.

“Seeing students, like Quinn, who really pushed the envelope and grew each time they used the Innovation Space gave us confidence and reassurance that we are on the right path toward collaborative, innovative exploration,” said Sweet.

Struzziero continues to build off students’ and teachers’ use of the green screen for audio visual technology, 3-D printing, and coding technology. Students are engaged in the “maker movement,” tinkering without limits as they design new ways to engage technology. The RCA and teacher communities at Ricks supported this year’s initiative to implement LEGO robotics across the K – 8 learning spectrum. Ricks is hosting a 2-day LEGO robotics training on August 8 and 10, and has opened the training to MCE faculty and staff, along with local independent schools.

Ricks begins is 2018-2019 school year on August 13 for educator professional development and opens its doors to students August 20. For more information about Ricks, visit their site.

The University of Denver’s (DU) Morgridge College of Education’s (MCE) Ricks Center for Gifted Children has received accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

The accreditation comes from the largest nonprofit association in the United States representing early childhood education and reflects the highest professional standards for quality young children programs.

“Ricks Center for Gifted Children is committed to the accreditation process, which provides a framework for continuous improvement according to the highest standards of school performance.  NAEYC accreditation ensures top performance in our education of young children, including family support, teacher training, student safety, and community engagement.  Accredited by both NAEYC and AdvancEd, Ricks supports all of its students in realizing their full potential,” Anne Sweet, Ricks Center Director said.

Achieving NAEYC Accreditation is a four-step process that involves self-study, self-assessment, candidacy, and meeting and maintaining accreditation over a five-year period. Directors, teachers, and families all participate in the process. Programs are required to meet standards grouped into 10 areas: relationships with children, curriculum, teaching approaches, child assessment, nutrition and health, staff qualifications, relationship with children’s families, relationship with the community, physical environment, and program leadership and management.

“The Morgridge College of Education represents distinction in early childhood; from the Marsico Institute to the Fisher Early Learning Center to our Early Childhood Special Education programs, MCE serves as a leader,” said Dr. Karen Riley, Dean of Morgidge College of Education. “As such we want to ensure that we are meeting the highest standards for the children and families that we serve and that we are engaged in continual improvement.  NAEYC is the gold standard in this area and provides a framework to ensure exceptional quality and a means for thoughtful reflective practice.  This accreditation assures the families that we serve that we meet or exceed the highest of national standards and provides our graduate students with a model of excellence in the field.”

The Ricks Center for Gifted Children is operated by the Morgridge College of Education and is an extension of the College’s renowned work in the area of gifted education. In addition to providing a rigorous educational experience for gifted children from preschool to 8th grade, the model school also serves as an on-campus training and research facility for graduate students across the college including but not limited to school psychology, early childhood, curriculum and instruction and educational leadership.

Ricks Center for Gifted Children was recently named a Top 5 Private School in Colorado by Colorado Parent magazine. Ricks, a nationally recognized gifted education school located on the University of Denver campus and part of the Morgridge College of Education, provides a dynamic and challenging educational environment to approximately 250 students from preschool through eighth grade. The award was part of Colorado Parent’s annual Top 5 issue and was selected by editors of Colorado Parent Magazine and voted on by magazine readers.

Ricks Center at the University of Denver was founded in 1984 as the University Center for Gifted Young Children. The school grew from a doctoral summer project by Dr. Norma Lu Hafenstein. 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.

Today, Ricks is housed in an innovative space 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.

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 is available for students of all ages in age-appropriate and curriculum-based situations, and a new Maker Space is under development and expected to be completed fall 2017.

Students from the Ricks Center for Gifted Children—a University of Denver model demonstration school which is a part of the Morgridge College of Education—are enrolled in the inaugural year of the Lamont Piano Preparatory Program, run by the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver. Established by M.M. Piano Pedagogy program chair Chee-Hwa Tan, the preparatory program is designed to provide graduate students enrolled in Lamont’s M.M. Piano Pedagogy degree program with opportunities to gain practical teaching experience in both group and individual formats.

The preparatory program’s approach is experiential and immerses the Ricks students in an all-encompassing musical education through listening activities, interactive games, and reading exercises. Additionally, Ricks students are given an introduction to music history surrounding the pieces they learn. They participate in performances as part of the curriculum, and gave an inaugural public recital in January 2017. The preparatory program is designed to be a three-year experience for Ricks students; in the 2017-2018 academic year, the current first-year cohort will begin their second year, and a new cohort of students will enroll. Mary Beth Shaffer, coordinator for the preparatory program, says of the Ricks students that they are “a model group to work with.”

About the Ricks Center

The Ricks Center for Gifted Children was founded in 1984 by Norma Hafenstein, Ph.D., Morgridge College of Education (MCE) Clinical Professor & Daniel L. Ritchie Endowed Chair in Gifted Education. Furthermore, Dr. Hafenstein leads the Gifted Education Ed.D. Specialization in MCE’s Curriculum & Instruction program. Ricks current director Anne Sweet is thrilled with the Lamont partnership, saying that the preparatory program is a “wonderful opportunity” for the students to engage in higher-level creative learning.  The partnership exemplifies the One DU philosophy of the Chancellor’s strategic plan Impact 2025, benefitting the Ricks students and their families while providing a unique experiential opportunity for the students of the Lamont School.


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