Giving Back - Play It Smart - Academic Coaches
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Play It Smart Coaches




Judy Fannings-Walker
Carver High School
Judy Fannings-Walker joins the staff of Play It Smart from the Atlanta Public School System. Her career started as a teacher from her home state of Alabama. Mrs. Walker continued teaching at Dean Rusk Elementary School. After 33 years of service, she retired from Mary Agnes Jones Elementary School, 2011. The 2005 Atlanta Public School Teacher of the Year,  Mrs. Walker graduated Magna Cum Lau from Texas College, Tyler, Texas, where she was a member of Alpha Tau Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Jamaal Clark
South Atlanta High School
Jamaal Clark is in his third year as the Play it Smart Academic coach at South Atlanta high school. He graduated from Valdosta State University in 2009 with a Bachelor degree in General Studies, while concentrating in Communications, Sociology, and Psychology. He has worked many summers counseling students from five to thirteen at different youth summer camps. Coach Clark also played 3 years of football for the Valdosta State Blazers and was a member of the 2007 National Championship team. During his tenure at South Atlanta he has helped increase the team grade point average as well as graduation rate of the senior class.


Alexander Lakes
Therrell High School
A new addition to the Play It Smart team, Alexander Lakes works with student-athletes at Therrell High School, instilling in his students the importance of education and community service. Active in volunteerism, from neighborhood clean-up campaigns and toy drives to feeding the hungry and mentoring, Lakes considers his time as a mentor, teacher’s aide, soccer and basketball coach and tutor at an Atlanta elementary school his most rewarding experience. When he is not helping youth with academics and leadership, Lakes enjoys reading, gardening and sports.

Mary Palmer
Mays High School
Mary Palmer has been an Academic Coach at B.E. Mays High School for the past four years. She has over 20 years of involvement with Atlanta’s school district, serving as a Board and Committee member on various PTSAs. Mary has a strong technology background the led to her working with several major corporations prior to coming to B.E. Mays. Mary, who is also B.E. Mays’ School Parent Liaison, earned her bachelor’s from Jackson State University and her master’s from Georgia Tech.

Kenton Pope
Jackson High School
Kenton Pope is in his fourth year as a Play It Smart Academic Coach and he is currently the Academic Coach at Jackson High School. He has worked with several school systems and is familiar with Atlanta Public Schools, having attended Benjamin E. Mays High School.  Kenton was a substitute teacher in the Durham Public Schools and is currently a substitute teacher with the Atlanta Public Schools.  A graduate of Morehouse College, he has also served as a Teacher Assistant and Tutor at Dean Rusk Elementary Enrichment Academy and was an English Teacher, Tutor and Site Coordinator at Summerbridge.


Matt Hazel
Grady High School
Matthew Hazel is in his second year with the Play It Smart Program and he is currently the Academic Coach at Grady High School.   Matthew, who is also alumni of Grady High School, earned his bachelors from Tuskegee University and his masters from Troy State University.  Matthew was a four-year member of the Tuskegee University’s football team that captured three SIAC Conference Championships and the 2000 Black College National Championship.


Danny Verdun-Wheeler
North Atlanta High School
A former NFL player, Danny Verdun-Wheeler has worked with student-athletes at North Atlanta High School as an Academic Coach since Jan. 2010. He has worked as a youth counselor at Bright Horizons in Atlanta and was also a sports counselor at Camp Kawaga in Minocqua, Wis. Danny was a four-year member of Georgia’s football team and was part of the 2005 SEC Championship and the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl teams. He graduated from Georgia with his bachelor’s in May 2008.

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