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Mother shares story of struggle to gain foothold

Michelle McCarty, 46, and her 14-year-old son, William, slept in their 2003 Volkswagen Jetta wagon for almost two months when they first moved to Douglas County.

Each night they moved the ice chest and suitcases to the front seat, laid out sleeping bags and pillows in the back, then stretched out next to each other.

“Part of what people think when you say you’re living in your car is that you’re using your car as your house,” William said. “But, really, our car was not our house — our car was our bed.”

For a short while this year, William was one of hundreds of Douglas County students considered homeless. Unlike many homeless youths in urban areas, they don’t necessarily live on the street. But, like William, they don’t have a permanent place to call home.

Instead, they sleep on friends’ and relatives’ couches. Or in hotels. Or cars, when options have run out.

“I remember looking over at William sleeping and just crying because I felt like I was putting him through this,” McCarty recalled recently, as she sat in a bungee-cord chair in the dining room of their new apartment in Highlands Ranch. “But I was so proud of him because he was so strong.”

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Vaping’s growing popularity spurs action

Depression, anxiety and wanting to fit in are what Olivia Ridl, 17, says drew her to begin vaping when she was a freshman at Chatfield High.

“I wasn’t a popular kid,” she said. “I was eating lunch in my teachers’ classroom or in the library.”

But vaping with her new friends made her feel like she fit in somewhere, and the nicotine buzz allowed her to cope with and numb unwanted feelings.

By her sophomore year at the school in unincorporated south Jefferson County, Ridl said she couldn’t go a day without her vape, using it at school, in class — sometimes going through a pod or two a day.

The discreet products — often marketed by manufacturers as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, one that can help adults quit smoking — have exploded among today’s youths. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says Colorado is first in the nation for the number of teenagers who use vaporizers or e-cigarettes, calling the trend a public health crisis.

Local public health officials agree that high school students are vaping and using e-cigarettes at alarming rates.

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Preventing dropouts among pregnant, parenting students

During her sophomore year of high school, Leslie Belmontes found out she was pregnant.

Not feeling like she could continue at her traditional high school, Northglenn High, Belmontes transferred to New American School in Thornton for her junior year. She thought the non-traditional school would be a better choice for her to continue her education while she prepared to become a mother.

But after giving birth to her son, Aaron, during winter break, a lack of support from school staff, babysitting needs and additional medical attention for her son, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome and a heart murmur, made Belmontes feel that she couldn’t go to school anymore.

She became part of the 90 percent of pregnant and parenting teens to drop out of school, according to the National Dropout Prevention Center.

The center, a nonprofit based in South Carolina dedicated to increasing graduation rates, also published a self-reported study that said 28 percent of female dropouts cited pregnancy and the health concerns associated with it as the reason for dropping out of school. Another 25 percent cited becoming a mother. Lack of childcare is one of the biggest reasons for this.