Students become authors for OHS project

Julie Lewis | The Daily StarSue Murphy explains the national Young Adult Story Box Project to sophomores at the Oneonta Senior High School on Wednesday.

In lieu of a traditional midterm exam, high school students in Oneonta will get a chance to be authors.

Oneonta High School English teacher Susan Murphy has enlisted the 10th grade class to be part of the national Young Adult Story Box Project.

Created by Ohio teacher and story teller Kevin Cordi, the box is passed from school to school for a month at a time, and students are tasked with finishing an unpublished story started by a popular author.

More than 40 young adult authors, some New York Times bestsellers, have crafted prompts for the project. The unfinished stories range in length and detail; some are one sentence, others are pages.

Murphy received two boxes: one filled with previous students' stories and another box of “secrets” to which each class adds. Secrets are supposed to help guide the next class in understanding the process. The two boxes sit atop a desk at the front of Murphy's classroom.

The stories are on a digital format that can only be accessed by the students involved. Students choose a story that they would like to finish and will spend the next three weeks writing, peer-reviewing and organizing the box to be sent to the next location.

Murphy said that the challenge takes students beyond the four walls of the classroom, where they have to engage with material creatively. The standard classroom procedure is reading a text, analyzing it and writing an exposition on it, Murphy said. With this, students will be engaged in story analysis, dialogue, character development and story arcs by writing it themselves. Students, Murphy said, will learn the function of style and elements, such as foreshadowing, as well as the difficulty of the creative writing process.

“They will have to learn the hard work of it. I'm hoping they'll start to get into the nuts and bolts,” Murphy said.

“I'm very interested in exploring the stories and what you can do with them. I do like to write and it's pretty cool to learn about using different writing styles,” sophomore Erica Young said.

Cordi emphasized the agency that the project grants to students.

“We're teaching about the culture of the writer, and that their voice matters,” Cordi said.

Sophomores in Murphy's classroom shared that sentiment.

“I like to write my own stories, I'd rather be able to tell a story and put my own thought into something,” Avery Burnsworth said. “I think it's a good idea, so she [Murphy] can see how we write, our ideas or what's on our minds.”

Burnsworth said that because they are young, their opinions don't always get listened to, but this feels like a space for their voice, even if it is curtailed by the constraints of the author.

Cordi said there is the possibility of publication. He said he is talking with publishers about eventually creating an anthology out of the best stories, but that won't take shape until the box's trip is finished.

“I love to write when it comes up, and this poses a bit of competitiveness with different schools, and that's cool," sophomore Kayah Searle said. 

Between the English classes, book club, the school newspaper and a media arts class, around 140 Oneonta students are participating in the project.

“We're picking up strays along the way,” Murphy said, adding there is a senior creative writing class that expressed interest.

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Reporter covering agriculture and k-12 education in Central New York state.