A mysterious private elementary school founded by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith was a front for Scientology where young children were quietly taught the ways of the controversial church, a former teacher claims.
The New Village Leadership Academy (NVLA) started as a homeschooling operation in one of the Smith’s vacant mansions in Calabasas, California, in 2007.
Between 20-30 children were educated inside Will and Jada’s $20 million home before they opened a bonafide school on the nearby campus of Indian Hills High School, paying $890,000 to lease a building on the site for three years.
Dr. Mariappan “Jawa” Jawaharlal, an associate dean and engineering professor at California State University, served as a guest robotics lecturer at the school from 2008 to 2010.
He also says that many of the school’s full-time staff were openly members of Scientology, and images and books written by the church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, were displayed all over the school.
“There’s no question about it, the New Village Leadership Academy was a Scientology school,” said Jawa, 61.
“This was an elementary school and they had books on Scientology in the library and elsewhere in the school.
“[Will and Jada] may have denied it, but there was definitely a drastic tilt toward Scientology in that school.”
Both publicly and privately, the Smiths repeatedly denied that the New Village Leadership Academy had anything to do with Scientology.
In an interview with Ebony Magazine in 2009, Jada said: “All I can say is it is not a Scientology school.
“Now, if you don’t trust me, and you are questioning my integrity, that’s a whole different matter.
“That is straight evil to think that I would bring families into that educational institution and then try to get them to convert into some religion.”
However, evidenced by numerous statements and posts on its website, the school did openly embrace study technology, an educational model developed by Hubbard that focuses on three key principles of learning: “mass”, “gradient”, and the “misunderstood word.”
The misunderstood word – otherwise known as “word clearing” – is at the heart of Hubbard’s teaching, and requires a student to meticulously look up chains of words in dictionaries to better understand their meaning.
But the school’s ties to the church reportedly didn’t end there.
Jacqueline Olivier, who was the first headteacher of NVLA, previously told The Daily Beast that the academy was “essentially a Scientology school.”
In addition to supporting Jawa’s claim that images and books of Hubbard’s were displayed openly around the school, Olivier said various other Scientology practices were also a part of the curriculum.
Such teachings reportedly included “Tone Scale” – a Scientologist method for analyzing someone’s emotions – and “debugging”, in which a person’s “barriers” are broken down.
Terms and labels associated with Scientology were also used on campus on a regular basis, according to Olivier, such as “Suppressive Persons”.
To Hubbard, a Suppressive Person – or SP – was someone who intended to “suppress, or squash, any betterment activity or group.” The term is regularly used by Scientologists to describe critics of the church and dissenting former members.
Olivier also said that she and other teachers were made to take courses at Scientology’s Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, California, and also at Applied Scholastics, a Scientology-affiliated group that promotes study technology.
“[The church] has all these front companies that you only realize later are Scientology,” Olivier told The Beast in 2020.
“I had to go down to the Celebrity Centre and do stuff with the E-meter, and Jada was always at the Celebrity Centre,” she added.
“My feeling is that Jada was really into [Scientology] and Will was sort of whatever… but he took all the courses too.”
Will and Jada – who share a close friendship with Scientology’s poster-boy Tom Cruise – have long denied ever being members of the church, but admitted to being curious about its teachings.
“For me, all religions have been my home,” Jada said during a 2020 taping of her Red Table Talk, with ex-Scientologist Leah Remini.
“Which is why I didn’t have a problem going to the Church of Scientology and saying ‘I’m not a Scientologist. I just want to be here and see what you have to offer.'”
Similarly, Will told World Entertainment News Network in 2006: “I’ve talked to Tom about it. [There’s] lots of incredible, wonderful concepts but Jada and I don’t necessarily believe in organized religion.
“I was raised in a Baptist household, and my grandmother would get up out of her casket [if I became a Scientologist].”
Despite the couple’s denials, many in the past have contested that the couple was, at least at one time, in some way affiliated with the church.
One of the world’s leading Scientology reporters, Tony Ortega, founder of The Underground Bunker, claims the pair were involved in the church but to differing degrees.
According to Ortega, Jada was “heavily into it”, while Will “was a dabbler.”
The couple then cut all ties to the church in 2015, Ortega claims.
JADA ‘RECRUITED’ FOR CHURCH
Sam Freeman, the British daughter-in-law of legendary opera singer Placido Domingo, also claims to have got friendly with the Smiths during her time in the church, claiming the pair spent a lot of time at the Celebrity center.
Freeman was in the church for 22 years before leaving in the late 2000s.
Although Will and Jada have both sought to downplay their Scientology ties, Freeman has previously their involvement was far from just a fleeting moment.
In fact, Freeman claims that not only was Jada an active member of Scientology, but she was for a time also tasked with bringing new members into the fold.
“When I moved to LA from Clearwater, Florida, I was just hanging out with celebs and their kids at the Celebrity Center,” Freeman said.
“Jada would always be around. There was a Sunday buffet where you can invite your friends and they brought in Daphne Wayans, her then-husband Keenan, and their five kids.
”Daphne told me that Jada had introduced them to Scientology, Daphne was really excited telling me all this, but that’s what Jada did – she was charged with getting people into Scientology.
“Jada was always around Celebrity Center, doing her own thing with Kelly Preston [John Travolta’s late wife] in the President’s Office.
“They were like the Stepford Wives of Scientology.”
(Jada’s publicist has not yet responded to a request for comment about the claims.)
Dr. Jawa’s involvement with NVLA started in late 2007 when he received an email from Olivier, asking him whether he’d be interested in teaching a robotics class at a new school.
Jawa said she was initially secretive about who the founders of the school were, but he eventually learned Will and Jada were behind the project and he was enthused at the prospect of working with them.
“I went to the school, which at that time was inside their home, and she told me that this is Will Smith’s school,” Jawa remembered.
“She said she wanted me to work there once a week and do the robotics program I’d been doing successfully at other schools.
“Jackie also told me that money would not be a limitation. I’d worked in very poor schools in the past, but she said you don’t have to worry about those things here, just tell us what you need and we’ll get it.
“I was blown away by the school and the money that was poured into it,” Jawa continued.
“In a regular school we’d struggle to buy the right equipment, but here they would buy $10,000-$20,000 worth of items with the snap of a finger.”
Admitting he was more excited about working with Will Smith than the money they were offering, Jawa accepted the position and taught at the Smiths’ home once a week for six months, before NVLA’s full-fledged campus opened in the fall of 2008.
But quickly, Jawa says he realized that NVLA was more an elaborate baby-sitting exercise rather than a school, with privileged children refusing to listen or attend certain classes, and a lack of a structured curriculum.
Jawa said he considered quitting his guest teaching slot but ultimately decided against walking away because he thought he owed it to Olivier to stay for at least a year.
“Jaden was actually always nice to me,” Jawa said, “he would listen but he was always distracted.
“I was told he didn’t go to any other classes but liked coming to my robotics class because at least he could have some fun.
“Willow was a real whiner at that time, but she was also very young so you can’t complain about her.”
While insisting he cannot complain about the way he was personally treated, Jawa said things quickly went from bad to worse – and only continued to deteriorate when the NVLA opened its school.
During this time, Olivier says she started pushing back against study tech and the only Scientology principals allegedly seeping into the school’s curriculum.
“I said to Jada, ‘It’s stopping and starting. They can’t move forward and everything is bogged down.’ They would have fifth graders reading second-grade material—just one paragraph because they would stop at every word,” Olivier told The Beast.
She further claimed that a number of parents also started catching wind of the Scientology teachings at the school and began pulling their kids out of class.
Olivier claims her resistance to study tech led to her being fired by Jada after just one year in charge.
In announcing her departure, through one of their reps the Smiths claimed Olivier’s departure “was entirely unrelated to the curriculum.”
They also called her an “excellent education [who] fully embraced the school’s secular and open-minded approach to innovative teaching methodologies.”
However, Olivier contests that claim, insisting she was actually forced out of the day because she was deemed to be “not on board” with Scientology.
Jawa supports Olivier’s recollection of events, telling The US Sun: “It’s my understanding that Jackie could not go along so Jada got her fired or asked her to leave.
“Jackie was an outspoken person, she’s an educator and she was focused on education.
“But Jada would come in and say, ‘this is how you should do things’ … but just because you’re rich doesn’t mean to know about how to teach kids.
“And once Jackie left it was certainly not a leadership academy … it was anarchy.”
‘A SCIENTOLOGY SCHOOL … NO QUESTION’
In the wake of Olivier’s shock exit, Jawa said he believes Scientology’s influence over the school increased somewhat, following the appointment of Franca Campopiano as headteacher, who is openly a Scientologist.
A number of Scientologists were hired as teachers at NVLA, he claims, some of whom didn’t even have teaching degrees.
“I wasn’t directly affected by the whole Scientology thing, but the school was not in the right direction in terms of what they were teaching,” Jawa said.
“Many of the teachers who were hired after Jackie left were not qualified.
“I think they had probably different take on how to teach or a different approach because of Scientology.
“In any case, I worked for another year with the new principal, then I decided to leave and I told her, ‘I can’t come here anymore’, and then stopped going.”
Ultimately, Jawa said he was relieved to leave NVLA behind, calling his time at the school “bizarre.”
Towards the end of his two-year stint, he said he barely understand what some of the other teachers were saying, with their use of Scientology-related terms.
“Instead of talking about happiness or feelings, they’d talk to the children about a ‘guide to better living,’” Jawa claimed.
“You don’t talk to kids about things like that.
“That’s certainly the impact of Scientology, there’s no question about it to me.”
MR AND MRS SMITH
During his two-year stint working part-time at NVLA, Jawa said he shared very few direct interactions with Will and Jada.
Describing Will as “warm” and friendly, Jawa said the Oscar-winning actor – who sparked controversy at this year’s ceremony by slapping Chris Rock for poking fun at Jada – stopped by his classroom one day and spoke with him for 15 minutes.
Jawa provided The US Sun with an image of him meeting Will Smith for the first time.
“He was very interested and respectful … although he did bow to me like I was Japanese – I’m Indian,” he laughed.
“Though I took that to be a sign of respect, not anything mean.
“But Jada I would see coming and going,” he added.
“The way Jada treats you, is she walks past you like you’re a tree trunk or something – she doesn’t acknowledge you exist.
“But Will Smith I’d say is much more of a warm person.”
A FINANCIAL FAILURE
NVLA ultimately closed its doors in the fall of 2013 amid controversy over its reported Scientological ties and dwindling finances.
In the spring of 2013, the school had been promoting several fundraiser auctions on its Facebook page, selling of items such as Will Smith’s suit in Men In Black 3, a pair of heels worn by Jada during an appearance on Oprah, and boxing gloves signed by Mike Tyson.
But the school suddenly shut down in the fall before the school year was due to begin.
Tax filings would later show that the NVLA, in which the Smiths had invested millions of their own money, was operating in a significant financial deficit.
While the NVLA was receiving just $740,000 in tuition payments annually, its teacher salary bill alone was upwards of $1.5 million.
According to a 2013 report by Showbiz 411, NVLA finished 2012 some $307,000 in the red.
“Working there was a really interesting period in my life,” said Jawa.
“I really don’t know why I did it because it didn’t fit my interests.
“It was probably just the idea of working with a huge star like Will Smith, to be honest,” he laughed.