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Married pair teach music and drama and stage plays together at Barlow High School

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Amber and Jeff Schroeder have taught music and drama at Barlow High School for five years. The staging of Jeff Schroeder's marriage proposal was worthy of a Broadway musical: He asked his girlfriend for her hand atop New York's iconic Empire State Building.

Amber said "yes," and the duo has made beautiful music together ever since. Literally.

Amber Schroeder is a music teacher and choir director at Barlow High School, where her husband Jeff teaches drama. They collaborate on Barlow's successful musicals and teach many of the same students in their choral and drama classes.

This pair is not the only group of relatives working in local schools, of course, where multiple sets of family members work together in education.

Brothers Jim and Steve Anderson both teach science at H.B. Lee Middle School. At Centennial Middle School, Debbie Henry is the secretary, her husband William "Tom" Henry is head custodian, and Debbie's sister, Lori Porter, works in the cafeteria. 

Evan and Shannon Selby both work at Reynolds High School. Evan is a social studies teacher and president of the district teacher's union, and his wife, Shannon, is the coordinator of the college and career center.

COURTESY PHOTO - Amber putting some of Barlows male singers through their paces. But the Schroeders have a special synergy at Barlow, working in the same artistic sphere. They recently had a ball staging the well-received production of "Mamma Mia!"

The Schroeders say their cooperation runs deeper than simply mounting musicals.

"We both agree on the values we hold in our programs: how students talk to each other, resolve conflict and avoid conflict," Jeff says.

Students identify them as a pair and sometimes call them he-Shro and she-Shro, shortening their last names.

Local connection

Both Schroeders grew up in East Multnomah County and attended Portland State University. Jeff studied music, then theater. Amber studied music. They met in the PSU Chamber Choir when they were still teenagers and discovered they both attended Gresham's East Hill Church.

Friends at first, they eventually started dating.

"When we started dating, we both knew in a couple of weeks we would be married," Amber says.

Amber was 22 years old and Jeff was 21 when they tied the knot. They've been married 17 years and three days. The Bruin couple has three children: a second-grade daughter, a seventh-grade son and a freshman son, who attends Barlow.

The pair had worked together at a summer camp and on other efforts and have taught at Barlow together for five years.

When it comes to decision-making, the couple say they just sort of come to a consensus on issues such as selecting the musical for each year.

"When you're best friends, well, I don't have to explain my thinking to him," Amber says.

Picking plays

Of course a primary consideration is choosing a production that meshes with the skills of the students they have each year.

"We have a lot of talented kids here," Jeff says. "We have to pick something with a large cast."

The first musical they staged as a couple was Cole Porter's popular "Anything Goes." Out of 21 students auditioning, only three boys were among them.

But after their years of working together and building the music and drama programs, the "Mamma Mia" auditions attracted 78 students.

A Barlow graduate, Amber came from a musical family. She recalled having excellent teachers who inspired her to become a music educator. She's taught at various schools for 19 years and is in her fifth year at Barlow.

Jeff was the artistic director at East Hill Church before he finished his teaching credentials and joined Amber at Barlow.

The pair are so dedicated to their students, they bought a 15-passenger van with their own funds and got the proper credentials to transport kids to competitions and performances.

Their own children blend into their jobs, too. Their seventh-grader likes to sell concessions at performances, and their daughter appeared in "Mamma Mia!"

Harmonious family

Despite the work-real life spillovers, they also fiercely protect their family time.

"We make sure the moments with our kids count," Amber said.

COURTESY PHOTO: JEFF AND AMBER SCHROEDER - Jeff and Amber on their big day, 17 years ago. They love to go to the beach and to California. They sing five-part harmony on their road trips, "like the von Trapp family," jokes Jeff, taking on show tunes, choral music, Sinatra hits and other genres.

The pair is even closer than before. With a big renovation of Barlow High School underway, Jeff lost his office to the bulldozer. Amber cleaned out the storage closet in her music classroom so Jeff could move in and make it his office.

"We help support each other," Amber says. "That's what we do."

Next on the boards at Barlow...

"The Crucible"

Sam Barlow High School's Theatre Department's next production will be the non-musical Tony award-winning Arthur Miller drama, "The Crucible." The story focuses on John Proctor, his wife Elizabeth, and a young girl named Abigail Williams, who maliciously causes Elizabeth's arrest for witchcraft in Salem, Mass. in the late 1600's.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. May 16, 17 and 18 and 2 p.m. May 18.

Adults are $14, students and seniors are $12.

Because the Barlow theater is under construction, performances of "The Crucible" will be at the Sandy High School Black Box Theater, 37400 Bell St., Sandy.

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