Anyone walking into the cafeteria during the homeroom period Sept. 8 at Jackson Middle School would have found a pep rally was underway.
Students were cheering as a "coach" worked them into a fever pitch -- but the focus was not an upcoming athletic contest.
In this case, the goal was creativity and the "coach" was Kevin Cordi, a storyteller and education professor at Ohio Northern University.
Cordi was on hand for the opening of the Young Adult Authors Unfinished StoryBox project. He led students in Randi Flynn's accelerated language arts class in a pledge stating "I am a creative genius" before opening the StoryBox.
The cardboard box contained the beginnings of stories written by more than 30 young-adult authors, including those behind several New York Times bestsellers.
Over the next several weeks, about 100 eighth-grade students in Flynn's classes will be writing endings to those stories before placing them back in the box and forwarding the container to another school.
Cordi began the StoryBox project in 1995.
"We've sent stories all over the country and all over the world inviting people to read and contribute to them," he said. "The goal of the project is to encourage people to do more reading and writing themselves by connecting with others."
This year's project is the first time the project has involved young-adult authors and students, Cordi said.
"We did a project two years ago that involved forwarding a box of children's poetry," he said. "We wanted to do something this year that would help encourage students to do more reading. Reading rates are so low. This hopefully is a way to get students interested in reading through the act of writing with authors."
Jackson Middle School is the first stop for the StoryBox project.
Flynn applied to have her school selected as one of those participating in the project.
"We're one of the few middle schools that were selected," she said.
"It's mostly high schools that will be part of the project. I think the students are excited and a little nervous about their work being read not only by the professional authors, but also by older, high school students."
But they were mostly excited, Flynn said.
"When I announced our school was selected for the StoryBox project, there were squeals" from her students, she said.
Flynn planned the special ceremony to open the box.
"I didn't want to just pass out the stories to each individual class," she said. "By the end of the day, the word would have spread about the stories in the box and it wouldn't have been too exciting if you were in the last class of the day. This way, everybody could share in the excitement."
After the box was opened, each class received a scroll with instructions that the stories they were given were top secret and should not be shared on the internet.
After a classmate read the scroll, students were in for a surprise.
The parchment was written on special dissolving paper. Students rolled up the scroll, placed it in a bottle of water and watched the document disappear.
The stories were then distributed to students, who will be working on their contributions through mid-October.
Cordi told the students about another surprise.
He said he has been talking with a major publishing company that is interested in putting out an anthology of the best collaborations between authors and students from the StoryBox project.
The chance that her contribution could be published is "amazing," said Brooklyn Dustman, 13.
"I'm so excited about this," she said. "I just think it's a great project.
"I'm a big reader and I love writing," Brooklyn said. "I especially like writing narrative, so I'm really looking forward to doing this project."
Her plan is to read as many books as she can by the writer whose story she is assigned.
"I want to read up on them so that I can try to match their style," Brooklyn said. "I don't want to make it too much of my own. Just give it my own little touch."
Terilyn Nicole Walker, 13, said she will take the same approach.
"You want to make sure what you write flows with what the author has written," she said. "It's a little intimidating to think you're going to write something with a published author, and maybe someone who is on the New York Times bestseller list."
While she will be trying to match her collaborator's writing style, Terilyn said she savors the chance to take the story wherever she wants.
"That's what writing is in one word: freedom," she said. "You get to choose in what direction a story goes. You can choose something that's more real life, or create your own fantasy. It's up to your and your imagination."
The StoryBox project will give students a chance to explore creative writing, Flynn said.
"Most of the assignments they work on for our class are essays and non-fiction," she said. "We've been talking about the importance of diction and tone in writing and how to do setting and use figurative language and description as part of the narrative."
Students also have been reading and discussing the works of the authors who are participating in the project, Flynn said.
Many of those writers will attend a celebration to be held Oct. 15 by the Thurber House after the students complete their work on the stories, she said.