Will Smith Funds Private Scientology School

Fox News/May 30, 2008

Hollywood power couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith have won critical acclaim for pumping nearly $1 million of their own money into a new private school that will offer organic meals, laptops for every student and an environment of learning based on "equity" and "respect" to create "citizens of the world."

Here's what the parents of the school's pupils aren't being told:

The New Village Academy plans to use some teaching methods developed within the Church of Scientology and has hired a team of Scientologists to put them into action.

Pinkett-Smith, who currently home-schools the couple's two children, has long been talking about opening up a school where Jaden, 9, and Willow, 7, can continue to receive an education in line with their beliefs, friends told FOXNews.com.

So she and her actor husband are bankrolling the pre-kindergarten through sixth grade school in Calabasas, Calif., and they have selected a group of Scientologists, including the Director of Learning, Director of Qualifications and Artistic Director, to create that atmosphere.

But you won't find references to the Church of Scientology on NVA's Web site.

Ron Reynolds, executive director of the California Association of Private School Organizations, a consortium of the state's private and religious schools, said it's not the actual teaching of Scientology methods that raises a red flag for him. His concern is the school's non-disclosure about its apparent religious affiliation.

"School should be forthright about its purposes. And if it's a religious school, I don't see why it wouldn't wish to announce its religious affiliation loud and clear," Reynolds said.

While the Church of Scientology is never mentioned explicitly, some of its teaching methods and terms are not hard to find on the site.

Under the glossary of educational theories, it lists "study technology," an "educational model developed by L.R. Hubbard." That's L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology.

"[S]tudy technology focuses on three principles," the curriculum reads. "First is the use of 'mass' to foster understanding - children need to see and feel what they are learning about," reads the posting.

Scientology supporters say study technology can be beneficial because it is individualized and helps students overcome things they don't understand by building one idea upon another. But critics say its concepts can be overly simplistic and brainwashes students with its covert religious instruction.

The site uses other Scientology terms, such as "spiraling" and "gradient," to describe how students master a level of learning before moving on to the next.

Scientology already runs its own semi-official network of schools called Delphi schools, which employ Scientologists and use teaching techniques like study tech - just like NVA.

While there has been much speculation about the couple's ties to Scientology, Smith has never publicly said he is a Scientologist.

Last month, Smith was quoted as saying, "I am a Christian. I am a student of all religions. And I respect all people and all paths."

In December, interviewed on "Access Hollywood," Smith said of his Scientology connection: "I was introduced [to] it by Tom [Cruise], and I'm a student of world religion. I was raised in a Baptist household, I went to a Catholic school, but the ideas of the Bible are 98 percent the same ideas of Scientology, 98 percent the same ideas of Hinduism and Buddhism."

In 2004 the couple donated $20,000 to the Hollywood Education and Literacy Program (HELP), the basis for Scientology's home-schooling system.

There was never any mention of faculty members' Scientology backgrounds on the school's Web site. As if underscoring its secretive nature, the school's faculty member page on its Web site was suddenly taken down last week - but FOXNews.com learned at least three staff members have ties to Scientology.

Tasia Jones, NVA's director of learning, graduated from the Scientologist Delphi School in Milton, Mass., according to her MySpace profile.

She was previously the Boston director of HELP, the same Scientology group to which Smith donated $20,000 in 2004, according to media reports.

On her Scientology Online blog Jones wrote, "I am currently teaching in a small private school. I have inspirations in the arts, particularly movies/films."

On a page entitled "My Success," Jones said, "My success in Scientology has been I have hope for myself and others that life can change for the better, all is not lost. I have a much more optimistic look than many of my peers."

According to TruthAboutScientology.com, an online monitoring database that tracks the religion and its practitioners, Jones completed six Scientology courses between 2000 and 2006, including one entitled Hubbard Professional Metering Course. The official Scientology Web site wrote this about what skills are learned: "It is not possible to successfully do anything in life if one cannot control objects, situations and communication. This course teaches that skill."

Sigrid Burket, NVA's Director of Qualifications, is described on the school Web site's faculty page as a "Youth Specialist" and sports coach. In 2004, Burket was listed as the director of a school that practiced Scientology beliefs - an official list compiled by the Church itself.

According to TruthAboutScientology, Burket has completed eight Scientology courses.

Sisu Raiken, the NVA's Artistic Director and performance teacher, is also a Scientologist.

From her Scientology Web site she writes: "Without exaggerating, I can honestly say that Scientology has made EVERYTHING about my life seem better. I am more productive, making more income, have a happier family and doing EXACTLY what I want to do in life. When I first found out about Scientology I was a failed artist and about to give up. Today I am well-known in my field (performer and teacher), very well-respected and VERY happy."

According to TruthAboutScientology, Raiken has completed 16 Scientology courses, including a course that teaches the evils of psychiatry and how to "detect and handle suppressive persons," according to the official Scientology Web site.

Numerous e-mails and phone calls for comment on the school's faculty by Smith's representatives and NVA were not returned.

Reynolds said people are certain to be curious about what Smith's new school has to offer, especially due to its name recognition. But he balks at why NVA wasn't more upfront about the school's Scientology connection.

"I fail to understand why you would hide what you are. How can parents make informed choices if they have to struggle to ascertain what the purpose and philosophy of the school is?" Reynolds said.

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