Manatee School for the Arts dedicates show to sixth-grade teacher who passed away

PALMETTO -- German Carbajal greeted people as they trickled into Manatee School for the Arts Friday evening. On his button-down shirt was a pink ribbon with a Hello Kitty insignia on it.

The small, bright detail was for his former teacher Rebekah Hatmaker.

Hatmaker, a 31-year-old sixth-grade math teacher in her ninth year at the school, died Thursday from complications of a streptococcus infection, said Bill Jones, the school's principal.

Ms. Hatmaker was known for her exceedingly high heels, her love of the color pink and a passion for dance.

And, according to 16-year-old Carbajal, she always made lessons fun with colorful notes and 3D cut-out demonstrations.

"First when I heard that she was in the hospital, I was hoping in my mind that God would help her feel better and that a miracle would happen," he said. "But when I found out that she passed away, I couldn't think of anything ... the only thing I could really think of was that she was a great teacher."

On Friday evening, the school hosted a show featuring performances by the school's dance team. "Tonight's show is dedicated in loving memory of Ms. Rebekah Hatmaker," read a projector slide before the show began. Below the words was a pink high-heel shoe.

A majority of the female dancers wore pink ribbons in their hair in honor of Ms. Hatmaker -- some of the male dancers wore pink wristbands.

"Most people know Ms. Hatmaker as a sixth-grade math teacher, but what some of you may not know is that, years ago, long before Heat or Strikers even existed, Ms. Hatmaker was a valuable asset to the dance department," said Kristina Mazzocco, a dance faculty member at the school.

Seventh-grader Mya Irizarry, who said she had Ms. Hatmaker last year, added that she cried when she found out about her former teacher's passing.

"I find it hard to believe still, since it's all so sudden and everything," the 12-year-old said. "I'm still trying to believe it all."

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.