In a classroom decorated with campaign signs older than they are, more than a dozen students at Metea Valley High School in Aurora got a voting-themed gift Thursday to signify they've turned 18.
In "Birthday Boxes" from the League of Women Voters of Naperville, the students each received nonpartisan information about registering to vote, searching for reliable information about candidates, voting by mail while in college, forming opinions in a democracy and why going to the polls is a civic duty not to be ignored.
The students in Sue Fuhrer's American Government class got the gifts during their elections unit, which comes less than two weeks before the March 20 primary.
"It's a nice way to get young people to know how important it is to vote," Fuhrer said.
New 18-year-old Rohan Agarwal said his Birthday Box contained "a lot of motivational stuff" about the importance of making choices for local, state and national leaders and about why the votes and voices of the millennial generation need to be heard. That's a message he's not hearing elsewhere, he said.
"I like the goal they have for all voters," Agarwal said.
He also appreciated another handout in his Birthday Box, which gave tips for finding accurate stories and primary sources of information about candidates, amid the "fake news" the internet and social media can contain.
His classmate Torre Campise didn't open her Birthday Box right away. She said she registered to vote shortly after she turned 18, but she's undecided if she will do so in the primary.
"I'm not very into politics," Campise said.
Campise, Agarwal and their Metea peers were the latest among at least 215 teens who have received Birthday Boxes from the league since the project launched in September.
The boxes, which also contain some mints, Tootsie Rolls, a business card for the League of Women Voters' VOTE411 website and a handwritten letter, aren't too costly to assemble, so the league says they're an effective way to encourage the next generation of voters.
"It generates a conversation about voting," said Annette Smith, voter services chairwoman for the League of Women Voters of Naperville.
League members here got the idea from a similar program in Michigan led by a group called CitizenDetroit. They said Thursday the idea since has spread to a league chapter in Texas as well.
As students on Thursday worked on a political campaign they're running as a project for Fuhrer's class, their teacher said the Birthday Boxes help provide an extra nudge toward civic participation.
"We're trying to make them educated voters," Fuhrer said about her students, "and then also get them registered to vote."