Teacher honored for Madison school’s Thanksgiving tradition

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MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) - For more than two decades, one Madison teacher has been bringing the story of Thanksgiving to life through theater; helping her students live American history in the process.

As that special teacher prepares to retire, her daughter, Lauren Wilkins, thought she could use a little help to put on one, final performance.

So Wilkins nominated her mom, Sharon Santoro, for WHNT News 19's Tools for Teachers award.

A few weeks later, WHNT News 19 showed up to honor Santoro as a winner.

"I am shocked. Oh my heavens!" Santoro exclaimed through tears, when WHNT News 19 showed up at Mill Creek Elementary School to present her with $319 in cash. "This is wonderful, thank you so much!"

Santoro believes education is not just "learning from a book." As proof of that, she's been putting on a play called "The True Story of Thanksgiving" for nearly 25 years; almost as long as she's been an educator. Over the years, she's directed groups of children at three different Madison schools, taking the play with her each time she moved.

As the children master their lines, they learn a lot along the way.

"They have to learn their presentation skills," Mill Creek Elementary Principal Carmen Buchanan explained, "There's literacy involved, there's math involved."

"They get confidence from talking on stage in front of their peers," Santoro added, "They're living history. It's not just reading it from a book. They internalize the true meaning of what Thanksgiving is about."

Each time, memories are made and Santoro has a binder filled with mementos - photos, old newspaper clippings and more - to prove it.

"What really touches me is when I'll say to the audience, 'Anyone who's been in this play please stand up!' and when they stand up, Santoro recalls through tears, "it means a lot."

Santoro said she's going to use the money to help with play expenses, or possibly on new curtains for the school's stage.

She said she's also looking for someone to take over the play once she retires, possibly another educator at Mill Creek.