Gena Suarez: Homeschool Magazine Publisher
Gena Suarez and The Story of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine
I’m Gena Suarez, and I was asked to write a bio for our website by one of our directors. This is an “about me” kind of page, I am told, but it will be a struggle to write something about just me, specifically. The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine Company and all it entails is the story of many. It’s a family story, but not the kind of family you might automatically think of. The Old Schoolhouse family is made up of so many diverse backgrounds, from all around the globe. We have moms and dads, homeschool graduates, writers, reviewers, and marketers across several continents. And over the years, our story has become richer and more special to my husband, our children, and to me, personally. The Lord has surely been faithful to us.
Before I describe our family’s homeschooling and publication journey, I will share with you what we have accomplished thus far.
- I and my husband, Paul Suarez, publish the leading homeschooling magazine on the market. During its first ten years, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine was a quarterly print found in Borders bookstores, Barnes & Noble, Hastings, Books-a-Million, and multiple Christian bookstores and indie homeschool/education stores nationwide. It took on 20,000 paid subscribers worldwide, in addition to store sales.
- Beginning January 2012, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine transitioned into an interactive-digital (still in PRINT and on newsstands annually) magazine and immediately went monthly rather than quarterly.
- Subsequently, TOS Magazine released three licensed applications (mobile apps): Apple Store, Android Market (now Google Play), and Amazon’s Kindle Fire. Each device auto-receives the newest issue quarterly. In addition, approximately sixty digital back issues come with the free apps. As of 2018, over 90,000 individuals downloaded TOS apps.
- As of late 2018, the magazine is released quarterly both in digital-interactive as well as in PRINT. Still in stores nationwide and made available via its apps, The Old Schoolhouse is known as the trade magazine for homeschool families.
- Also as of 2018, the magazine company’s social media followers exceed 250,000 via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, among other platforms, plus my personal Facebook page with over 700 additional followers and my 5,000 personal friends.
This Homeschool Magazine Started with Gena Suarez’s Dream
Back in 2001, the magazine was just a dream. It started off as a homeschooling newsletter—an online one at that. But first it was an eBay store. The Old Schoolhouse was without trademark at the time, and was just the bookstore name of my eBay store. Don’t get me wrong. The store was doing great! I loved the name. My husband and I picked it out carefully. We loved the feel of old times past, the Little House On the Prairie era. And my online store was full of books, including ones from the ’60s, ’70s, and even before. Mostly though, it was homeschooling curriculum. I was homeschooling at the time (still am!), and it was a natural flow to sell homeschool-related items in the bookstore. I loved collecting curriculum!
So off to yard sales I’d go. Off to thrift shops, kids in tow. I’d find good books, unused curriculum workbooks, school supplies, and anything I thought might make for a good listing online. eBay was all the rage at the time, and my auctions were brisk and profitable. Soon, we were paying our home mortgage just with these online eBay sales. And I was having a blast! Gena Suarez the homeschool mom was now also Gena Suarez the Internet marketer (grin)!!
As you can imagine, though, some of that kind of shopping is seasonal. I scoured all the usual places where you’d find used books. I was as creative as I could be, but yard sales only go so far, and thrift shops, once picked over, have to regain inventory, which could take weeks or months. I definitely needed options.
Christian-based Curriculum Is Popular with Homeschooling Customers
I’ll tell you how I got my inventory for our little online bookstore with eBay. One day as I was listing books, I realized that clearly my customers liked the Christian-based curriculum. I mean, on a wide basis, families wanted Saxon math books, spelling books, chemistry texts, or typing tutors. Educational products in general. But as the months went by, it became obvious that there was a strong demographic of parents similar to the way our family homeschooled, and that was by using books and other materials which backed up our faith.
So you had the expensive (new) textbooks by companies like Abeka and Bob Jones University Press, which were highly sought after if a parent could get a good deal on a used one in really great shape. My auctions would spike with activity when I ran these kinds of sales. But the regular places where I shopped for used books didn’t offer too many of these types of titles. They were normally older books cleared off someone’s bookshelf and stuck in boxes for decades, sometimes.
I would find great nuggets in those boxes, too. One time I found a paperback Trixie Belden book in a thrift store for about a dollar. I remembered reading those as a kid and I loved them! So I grabbed Trixie and then listed it when I got home. To my shock, a bidding war ensued, and it ended up selling for between $100 and $130, if I remember correctly. That was a nice little profit and made me smile. Those “hot auctions” were the spice to my regular, everyday book listing business. Made it fun! But back to the Christian books parents seemed to really be looking for in my store. How would I meet that demand? You don’t find many of those in thrift shops.
Public and Christian Schools Provide a Rich Source of Textbooks
An idea hit me. I got on the phone and started calling area Christian schools. Just your regular private ones which were Christian in the doctrine they taught. And a whole new little world opened up to me. To my delight, I remember one fellow who said I could come right down and see what they had. He led me to a classroom piled with Bob Jones University Press textbooks! Score! I grabbed them for a reasonable price.
I continued to research my options and called other Christian schools. My diligence paid off and I soon had a more steady flow of some of these highly sought-after textbooks parents seemed to want.
Libraries, too. They sell off or even give away books, depending on their own circumstances. I benefited from that venue as well.
But then I hit the gold.
In our city, Sacramento (we lived not in the capitol proper but up in the foothills in a town called Cool), there was a very large warehouse downtown called a book depository. This place was huge! Not just square-feet huge, but tall huge. The ceilings went WAY up! Stacked inside that warehouse were easily over one million books. Maybe far more than that. And the book depository’s purpose was to receive unused or sometimes gently used leftovers from the private and public schools in the region. The waste is real, that’s for sure. Your tax dollars at work.
Public schools sometimes purchase big orders of a textbook title for their classrooms only to use it for just one year and then dump them all. I even sometimes ran into books that would “crack” and smell new as I opened them—they were so brand new they hadn’t even been looked at. Yet they were dumped at the depository. Hundreds of thousands of treasures at my fingertips! The depository was very much open to the public, yet I doubt too many folks knew about it. I don’t remember it ever being crowded. I could roam freely for hours just hand-picking what I wanted, and the prices were almost yard sale prices. The owner of the depository got to know my husband and me pretty well. We were there that often.
One day, while at the book depository, I pulled the owner aside and asked if I could just buy books by the bag full. He knew I bought in bulk, so he agreed. My purchases started increasing. We started saving money on inventory, which meant our business did even better—more to sell and our store was getting popular. eBay was hopping, and they made me a PowerSeller, complete with a special digital blue emblem I got to display in my store.
Homeschooling Textbooks by the Truckload
Then things got even nicer. My husband, Paul Suarez, had a little orange Toyota truck at the time, and it’s what we would use to go “book shopping” at the depository. We’d fill that bed with as many bags as we could purchase! At one point, my husband approached the owner and showed him the pickup truck outside the door, asking what he might charge us for the truck-bed load, instead of selling to us by the bag load. Shockingly, we worked out an amazing deal, and business got even sweeter for us. Inventory was cheap, yet the auctions were booming for books!
The house … you should have seen our hallways! They were loaded with textbooks! Our home looked like a library. A messy one (grin). My bedroom was stuffed full of books around my desk, on my desk, upon makeshift shelves, and they lined the walls leading out to the living room. It was a little chaotic, but my books were selling! I’d list them and even pay our older kids to write summaries for me when we wanted to step up the speed a bit. It was a real lesson in entrepreneurship for all of us, and the kids were benefiting in more ways than one. They were paid to wrap books and help their dad load them up and take them to the post office. They also got the privilege sometimes of choosing for themselves little treasures they found hidden in a box or down a hallway in that book wonderland we called The Old Schoolhouse.
International Source for Homeschooling Resources
But something else began to happen during that short selling season. I had thousands of orders, some of them repeat ones, from the USA of course, but also from countries such as Canada, Australia, China, Africa, Japan, Russia, and perhaps even some faraway lands whose names I could not pronounce. There are homeschoolers everywhere! More and more parents every year were bringing their children home to educate them instead of letting the public schools do it. They needed materials. They needed books! And it turns out that this was the fast-growing market demographic I was attracting: homeschooling families.
I began using targeted words like “homeschool” or “homeschooling” in my eBay listings. This is when people really began making the connection between “Gena Suarez” and homeschooling books. I attracted even more families looking for a good math curriculum, a chemistry textbook with CD included, or a used textbook. And then the emails started coming.
In your eBay store, there is an ask-the-seller feature. Buyers definitely made use of that tool with me! They began asking me things like, “How do you homeschool high school kids alongside your little ones?” or “What is the best age to start teaching reading?” And so on. Now keep in mind, I had four children at the time, the oldest about thirteen. I was not at all an expert in home education or parenting. But I did my best to encourage these folks with the wisest possible answers I could give them, and I enjoyed the conversations that came from my little The Old Schoolhouse eBay bookstore.
The Start of Paul and Gena Suarez’s Homeschool Magazine
A little more time went on and the questions from my customers continued. One day it occurred to me that perhaps I could start a newsletter—something quarterly—so that I could address some of the questions coming in. I could even make it interactive by hosting a creative writing contest for the kids—with prizes. Paul was completely on board, so we set out to create our first The Old Schoolhouse (still no trademark at the end of it at that time!) Newsletter. Happily, we emailed it out to the couple thousand or so customers that I had on file. And we got responses! So exciting!
Until eBay contacted me. It didn’t matter that I was a PowerSeller (grin). I had been reported as sending unsolicited email, and eBay asked me to stop. I felt horrible. (Gena Suarez, quit emailing our members) I had no idea this was a no-no. They were my customers. I figured I could continue corresponding with them by email, but apparently not. So, of course I would comply with eBay’s rules. The good news? There was no rule against mailing them something. The bad news was that it meant we would have to print it and pay to ship it. I had no idea how to lay out a publication, but I had friends who did. They got right to work!
So the second newsletter the following quarter went out via USPS mail. It was only twelve printed pages, one-color ink, but we were sure proud of our little rag! It looked more like a church bulletin than a magazine, but hey, this was our sweet baby! And it was exciting. Better yet, we got lots of responses! The sweet baby started getting bigger ….
As We Built an Audience, Speakers & Authors Came
At first the homeschooling newsletter was free. Families signed up like crazy. Then it went to $5 per year. Then $24 once we were over 150 pages per issue, plus we changed the name to The Old Schoolhouse, with a tagline of “The Family Education Magazine.” Parents continued to subscribe. The fattest issue we’ve ever put out was almost three hundred pages. It truly has become the trade magazine for home school families everywhere.
The Old Schoolhouse Authors
Fast forward a couple more issues and we went color, glossy, and perfect-bound. We began attracting the top speakers and authors in the field, and over the years even more people joined in writing or being interviewed for us like Todd Wilson, Heidi St. John, HSLDA’s Mike Smith, Christine Field, Diana Waring, Andrew Pudewa, Adam Andrews, Amy Barr, Deborah Wuehler, Chuck Black, Leigh Bortins from Classical Conversations, Dr. Brian Ray, Dr. Raymond Moore, Dr. Ruth Beechick, Susan Wise Bauer, Tricia Goyer, Mark Hamby, Carl Wieland, Gary Bates, Jonathan Sarfati, Jay Ryan, Hal and Melanie Young, Dr. Sandi Queen, Steve and Jane Lambert, Heather Laurie, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, John MacArthur, Dean Butler, Stacy Farrell, Malia Russell, Jeannie Fulbright, Gena Suarez, Janice Campbell, Amy Pak, Mary Jo Tate, Jay Wile, Rick Boyer, Sharon Watson, Jessica Hulcy, Michelle Miller, Margie Gray, Carol Topp, Kim Kautzer, Kerry Tittle, Ray Moore, Kevin Novak, Dr. Carol Reynolds, Dr. Duke Pesta, Steve Demme, Dr. Heather Allen, Amelia Harper, Patrick Nurre, Zan Tyler, Judi Munday, Dianne Craft, John Taylor Gatto, Dave Stotts, Sam Sorbo, and too many others to mention. It just got bigger and bigger.
Leading parenting magazines list The Old Schoolhouse as a trusted source for homeschooling information.
The Old Schoolhouse Advertisers
Advertisers too were coming in—in droves. A Beka Book, BJU Press, Apologia, Classical Conversations, Alpha Omega Publications, Baker Book House, Bethany House, Sonlight, Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op, Creation.com, HSLDA, Walt Disney Company, Rosetta Stone, Focus on the Family, Christianbook.com, Demme/Math-U-See, Nebraska State University, Stanford University, HarperCollins, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harcourt, Dave Ramsey, LifeWay, Pearson, Movieguide.org, even Subway the sandwich chain has advertised!
The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine is a recognized source for trusted homeschooling information.
Gena Suarez’s Homeschooling Books and Publications
Over the years, I’ve written a children’s book (Splish) and Paul Suarez and I have co-authored a thick, paperback compilation for LifeWay called Homeschooling Methods. A list of these and other publications are shown below.
Average Joes To Home School Superheroes: A Collection by Gerald McKoy of Interviews that will Inspire and Encourage Christian Homeschoolers (Volume 1)
Other Homeschooling websites and online publications
From the humble beginning of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, we have branched out to grow an online network of homeschooling related media properties.
- The Homeschool Minute : A weekly Homeschool Newsletter for anyone homeschooling or considering starting in the US or Canada.
- The Old Schoolhouse Speakers Bureau: Is a dynamic group of homeschool speakers and authors who are available to speak at home-school events.
- Homeschool Review Crew: Is composed of homeschool families that love to blog about home school products! They set apart their own school time to use and review products with their own children. They then all share their experiences on their blogs.
- Schoolhouse Teachers: The curriculum site of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, where homeschooling families enjoy classes for preschool through high school as well as several courses for parents.
Hey Mama Devotionals
I’ve also written and published two spiral-bound homeschooling planners for moms, entitled Hey Mama, which these days is what I’m most known for on the authorship end of our company. There are many Hey Mama blog posts authored by Gena Suarez on The Old Schoolhouse website.
In my Hey Mama devotionals, I try to encourage moms to stay the course, to remember why they started this calling and Who called them to it. I want them to realize that while homeschooling can be hard, God is faithful, and that they can be, too, on this path they find themselves. God will complete the good work in them He has started. It’s serious work, this homeschooling thing. Takes a lot of patience, and Mom can get worn out. Our hope is to encourage her. Hey Mama attempts to do just that.
The Suarez Family Has Grown Along with The Old Schoolhouse
As the years have gone by, our family has grown, too. As mentioned, there were four children (Paul, Luke, Levi, and Julia) when The Old Schoolhouse was just getting started. But now, almost two decades later, my husband and I have had three more children: Susanna, Chloe, and Zion. Each of them has played a vital part in the business, helping at conventions, talking with customers, and taking inventory or helping to pack products for the booth.
So there you have it. It’s the story of The Old Schoolhouse from Gena Suarez’s perspective. It’s been full of delights and challenges all along the way, but we have found that the Lord is very faithful to teach, faithful to preserve, faithful to work out His perfect will in our family and in our business. We are very blessed to work with the wonderful people we do, and I’ll always be grateful to Him for this calling.