Idyllwild Arts: A Spoonful of Sugar Helps

Published : Friday, December 15, 2017 | 12:45 PM

During Kirt Wackford’s Biology class at Idyllwild Arts Academy, most of the students were not enjoying the plain yogurt they’d made.

“It’s so sour! Do we have to finish it?” Alexis Kuykendall, a tenth-grade Dance major, made a face.

She steeled herself and scooped more yogurt into her mouth, then made another face in discontentment.

“It’s partly because they’re kids,” Kirt pointed out, “and they want everything they eat to be loaded with sugar.”

Kids scrunch their noses up, complaining to their friends about how awful the sugarless yogurt is. But Kirt explains the science behind the fermented foods they’re eating, and their eyes light up with interest.

“He’s a very good teacher,” says Assistant Head of School Marianne Kent-Stoll, who hired Kirt several months ago and has observed the respect he commands from his students.

If the Academy values his strong teaching, Kirt has a different reason to value the Academy.

“My wife was unhappy in Utah, where I used to teach. My last year there she returned home to Costa Rica and would likely have stayed. But when she came to Idyllwild to help with the move, the community was so welcoming and the campus so beautiful that she decided to remain here. Our daughters love it, too—the younger one goes to the public school in town, and the older one is at the Academy as a Creative Writing major.”

About his teaching goals, Kirt says, “I want these students to have an appreciation for the incredible diversity of life,” he says. “I don’t imagine many of them will become professional biologists. But knowing how science works is important for being a good citizen, and appreciating the diversity of life is important for being a good person.”

Kirt herds his students back into a single group and explains what yogurt bacteria do, concluding with the reminder that “biology is the study of life.”


Idyllwild Arts, 52500 Temecula Road, Idyllwild, CA 92549-0038, (951) 659-2171 or visit


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