With more than 20 years as a Cleveland teacher, Monica Grays knows well the struggles teachers go through to equip their classrooms with the right learning tools, supplies—even snacks for an occasional party.
“Everyone knows a teacher and the amount we spend,” says Grays. “Teachers spend money on hats and gloves, and any holiday we [pay for] a party with pizza and cupcakes.”
Grays remembers the financial challenges she faced at the start of her teaching career. “Those first couple of years were really hard,” she says. She was shocked at how little the Cleveland Metropolitan School District gave her. “I walked into Holcomb’s [education store] and I started to cry.”
While she’s doing well now, as a math teacher for second through fourth graders at Campus International School, she wants to help other teachers tap into a more affordable way to purchase their supplies.
Three years ago, Grays opened 2nd Semester Consignment and Resource Shop at 29302 Euclid Ave. in Willoughby, a 1,200-square-foot resale store that serves as a place for educators to buy and sell used educational resources that are still in good condition and can make a difference. The resale store sells used classroom items like educational materials, games, books, manipulatives, and bulletin board items.
Now, she is expanding with a second 1,700-square-foot store, The Assembly by 2nd Semester, 612 East 185th St. in Cleveland's Collinwood neighborhood.
This is my little way of giving back.” Grays says of 2nd Semester. “I’m not going to solve the situation, but at least there’s a place where instead of getting one thing, you’re getting four things.” She says an item that sells for $50 in a typical retail store can often be found at 2nd Semester for less than $20.
Grays got the idea for 2nd Semester while selling her own teaching materials after she no longer needed them. “I had a garage sale and I went on one of those buy-trade-sell sites,” she says. “I thought, there has to be a better way for this.”
Grays found nothing like 2nd Semester in her research. She opened her Wickliffe store and saw demand take off. “Teachers take really good care of their things,” she says, so the resale value of used materials is high. “This is a new phase where teachers are recycling those materials into the community, and [the materials] are not just sitting in their garages.”
The Assembly came out of the need for more space. “We have a lot of everything. We really need a bigger space,” Grays says. “We have a lot of donations, and a lot of consignment things. We want to put them on our shelves. If someone is looking for something, even if we don’t have it, we will call when we get it in.”
In addition to the resale portion in the Collinwood location, Grays will also set aside some space for tutoring services for students in elementary through middle school. “I’m putting everything into it,” she says. She has six tutors on staff, including herself, and says she is still looking for middle school tutors.
Grays was a Cleveland Chain Reaction semifinalist this year, competing to open the Collinwood location, before she was eliminated from the competition. But the elimination didn’t slow her down. “Last year, I applied and didn’t even make the top 20,” she says. “I’m not feeling discouraged at all. It was a great opportunity to grow and learn my business and learn the ins and outs of how the market works.”
Grays soon moved on and launched a Honeycomb Credit crowdfunding campaign to help fund her renovations to 2nd Semester’s Collinwood location. The campaign has already raised more than $2,500.
She will use the money to furnish the store and reface the storefront with large windows with plenty of visibility to create a more open, welcoming look; replace the wood awning with modern awning; and new signage.
The project should be completed by the end of the year, Grays says, at which time she will finalize her application for Cleveland’s Storefront Renovation Program.
While Grays says she is already using the Collinwood store for tutoring, people can still only make donations and consignments at the Wickliffe store. In the meantime, Grays says she hopes to be an asset to the Collinwood community.
“We’re asking around and researching what the needs of the community are,” she says. “I just have a passion for this. I so believe in this concept, and it’s so needed.”