HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- When Gwendolyn Hollis video-called her grandson to ask him about his first day of school, he was smiling.
After spending years at home, trying to learn the basics of reading and writing from his mom and siblings, Hollis' 8-year-old grandson, Kayden Hollis, is going to school for the first time.
"I said, 'So what are you going to do when your mom takes you to school, and she says, 'Bye, Kayden'? He said, 'I'm just going to say 'bye' and go,'" Hollis told us Monday morning after dropping her grandson off at Houston ISD's Blackshear Elementary School. "I said, 'You're sure you're not going to look back and start crying like, 'Momma, come back and get me?'' He said, 'No,' and he did exactly what he said. He didn't do none of that. He's very brave."
Kayden was a little shy when he was dropped off, and although he didn't cry, his mom and grandma couldn't help but get emotional.
For years, Hollis said they've been trying to correct an error on his birth certificate that had his legal name listed as "Infant Hollis" instead of the name Kayden, which his mom chose for him at the hospital.
After trips to the hospital and calls to the health department, they weren't able to get his name legally changed. Confused about how to enroll Kayden in school without a correct birth certificate, the Hollises Turned to Ted.
"Finally, I remembered Marvin Zindler, and I was like, 'Marvin Zindler, Channel 13. You know what? He was legendary. I don't know who took his spot, but I'm going to give this a try. It's worth a try.' So I wrote a letter," Hollis said.
We called Houston ISD last Wednesday, and the next day, he was enrolled in second grade.
"I'm a happy grandmother," Hollis said. "I'm just trying to hold everything back right now, because it's just overwhelming me and I can imagine what he's going through on his first day of ever going to school."
13 Investigates found Kayden's age group is the most likely to have disappeared from HISD since the pandemic began, according to an analysis of enrollment data from the Texas Education Agency.
Our investigations in the last three years show thousands of students unenrolled from Houston schools.
Over the last two years, HISD's enrollment dropped by 15,454 students, with 60% of that enrollment decline comprising students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Kayden's family was one of about 1,200 whom the district's enrollment and school choice departments supported over the last week leading up to the first day of school.
Melanie Martinez Gomez, manager for student enrollment at Houston ISD, said her office helps homeless students with enrollment paperwork. They also help families in transitional housing, or those who are staying with friends and need a statement of residence form.
Parents who need help with enrollment at HISD can call the student enrollment hotline at 713-556-4826 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The district's enrollment team will also be at Delmar Sports Complex all this week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 2020 Mangum Road, Houston, TX 77092.
"Students will not be denied enrollment if a parent or guardian doesn't have the documents when seeking to enroll, but they will be provisionally enrolled, so the family will have 30 days to provide us with documentation," Martinez Gomez said. "If for whatever reason there's a barrier, (the parent) can contact us. We are those liaisons to be able to support (them)."
Over the summer, Martinez Gomez said the district held nine enrollment events throughout HISD's boundaries to connect families with resources and enroll them on the spot.
"We go into apartment complexes. We see the excitement with the little ones, but we also see how grateful the parents are, because when my team goes out there, we're the ones supporting those families in filling out those documents," she said. "We're holding their hand throughout the process and then we make connections with the campus and say, 'OK, campus A, you have five students who submitted an application.' So it's just a feeling of gratitude that we sense from the families once we're done with that piece."
HISD's student enrollment website is also available in Spanish, and enrollment documents are available in other languages, like Pashto, Dari, Arabic and Vietnamese to make it accessible for all communities, Martinez Gomez said.
"Our goal at the Student Enrollment Department is to ensure that every student from pre-K to 12th grade has access to a high quality education that HISD provides, ensuring that our families also know the options that the district has and that they have choice," Martinez Gomez said. "We work together with families and campuses to enroll students, to answer questions, to give families a really great foundation as they start their journey with HISD. We work collaboratively with other departments just to ensure that families have the resources they need so their children can reach their potential."
Hollis said the last few weeks have been emotional and stressful, but they're glad Kayden is finally enrolled.
"It's very important for him to get an education," Hollis said. "He's excited. He's nervous at the same time, but he's excited. We all are excited for him. We really are - you just don't know how excited we are. If I could literally turn a backwards flip right now without me hurting myself, I would literally do it ... that's how excited that we are about Kayden."
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