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Science kid goes to state

An honorable mention award at the California State Science Fair went to Tuolumne County’s own Jessamyn Skutches, 13, a seventh-grader at Soulsbyville Elementary School. 

Skutches entered the fair, held at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, after winning top honors at the Tuolumne County Science Fair. About 1,000 California students entered the state competition, which took place April 15 and 16. 

Skutches’ project on fish intelligence took one of two honorable mentions in the fair’s junior zoology division, what Tuolumne County science fair coordinator Cheryl Barton called a “huge honor.”

“It was a great experience to learn how to be interviewed and describe my project,” Skutches said. “I got a lot of good information from other projects and (students) who were next to me.”

Skutches’ project put five betta fish, also known as “Siamese fighting fish,” through simple mazes more than 30 times. Her goal was to see whether the fish would learn the mazes, as shown by shorter finishing times.

The fish did learn, coaxed by live bloodworms as a reward.

Skutches, who has always been fascinated by bettas, said she wasn’t surprised by the result. She’s known about salmon going upstream to lay eggs and assumed they had “some sort of internal map.” 

She is the daughter of two local science teachers, Lynn Skutches, of Sonora High School, and Mike Skutches, of Soulsbyville Elementary School.  Her parents worried they would get the credit for her project, but Lynn Skutches said Jessie did the work and was “really into the whole thing.” 

Jessie Skutches wants to be a marine biologist specializing in ancient marine life. 

“I love science,” she said. “It’s kind of been driven into me since my parents are both science teachers. It’s great.” 


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