Jada Pinkett Smith Gives Back

By Paulette Cohn

Photo courtesy of TNT

The actress talks motherhood, her new series and about opening a school for kids!

Jada Pinkett Smith has it all: a terrific husband, two healthy children and a successful career as an actress and musician. And, as the first generation in her family to achieve such success, she appreciates what she has and gives back to the community.

As she gets ready for the June 16th premiere of her new TNT TV series about nurses, "Hawthorne," in which she plays a single, working mother, she talks to justmommies.com about raising her two children with Will Smith, and why they felt compelled to share their educational beliefs with others in their community by opening up a school.

Can you talk about your character and why you decided to come to TV?

Jada Pinkett Smith: I really loved the character because my mother was an RN and a single mother, and this character is an RN and a single mother. So, this show is an homage to all the unsung heroes in the hospital -- what I would call your everyday man and woman who do extraordinary things.

I know that you and Will started a school in Calabasas. Can you talk about why you felt the need to do that?

Jada Pinkett Smith: My grandmother was a stickler. It was: education, education, education. I wish I had known then how important it was. As a child, you just take for granted what you have. My grandmother always understood the more educated you were, the more rounded you are and the more opportunities you have. So I wanted to create a school environment where children could access that idea at a very early age. I also wanted to create a school where all different economic groups and cultural groups could come together and share an environment of education, so they would know the world was diverse.

I think from the ages of pre-K to fifth grade, we have a whole different educational philosophy. We don't stress testing, we stress 100 percent mastery. For example, if you get an 82 on a test, that is not a passing grade. You have to go back and you have to re-learn that 18 percent that you missed and you have to retake the test until you get 100.

There were a couple of educational philosophies that Will and I had, so we started a home school with our children, and more and more parents were: "Can we come?" Then my house started to fill up and I had 20 kids. I was, "I might as well start a school," so that is what we did, so then we share with everyone.

How important is it for the parents to be involved in your school?

Jada Pinkett Smith: That is why we call it the New Village Leadership Academy, because it takes a village. In order to participate in this school, the parents have to be involved. We just had a meeting yesterday, trying to figure out the nooks and crannies of the beginning of a school. Having all the parents involved in the foundation and the building of a school is what it was back in the day. Parents created the schoolhouse that children went to before the government took over education.

So do you think when your kids get older you might also start a high school?

Jada Pinkett Smith: Yes, that is my plan. I am keeping my fingers crossed. I am just trying to make it through this year. It is probably the hardest thing I have ever done, but I tell you, it is really rewarding. When I can come there every day and see those smiling faces and they are safe, there is nothing better than that, but it is hard. Starting a school is serious business.

Your kids are going to school right now, but might they also show up on your show?

Jada Pinkett Smith: They keep asking. My daughter is, "Why are you auditioning other people? Why can't I be on the show?" I say, "You are too young Willow. She is a teenager." She says, "I can act like a teenager." I respond, "That's for sure. I need you to be eight. We will see." They have quite a few things. Jaden [who is 10] is about to do "Karate Kid," and Willow has a project in the wings. They have got their own thing.

Do you worry that they may not get the best education if they are child actors?

Jada Pinkett Smith: Let me tell you something: education is life. When they are on that set, to me that is the best school that there is. When Willow was doing "I Am Legend" with her dad, her determination was building. One night, it was freezing outside and the mindset that she had to build herself to get through that night, that is the mindset that she takes into her school, so when she is having a conflict with another child, or an obstacle with her education, it doesn't throw her off, because already she has learned the ability of mental control.

Understanding and self-determination will get you through anything. To me, you don't always learn that in school. To learn that type of determination through something you really want to have, that is not something your parents can put in you, and go, "I need you to work this out. I need you to get good grades on that." They have got to do it. We can only be in cooperation with our kids. Once they access those tools, and learn how to use them, then you have the confidence that they will put it wherever they decide to put it.

For me, I look at education as you learn it everywhere. I am not a believer that by the time you are eight you are supposed to have this skill, or by the time you are 10, you are supposed to have this skill. Those are great guidelines to have, but those are not absolutes. I know certain kids that will go far beyond. I know kids that are 10 years old that are doing Calculus. And then I know 10- year-old kids who can just get through counting money. At our school, we believe that every child has to be in their own place because all children learn differently. Like my daughter. She reads on a sixth grade level, but she is not that good in math. My son is extraordinary in math, but is on grade level for reading and writing. If they didn't have their own programs, my son would be bored as hell in math, and my daughter in English, but because they are on their own program, they stay challenged.

A lot of the women stars of TNT series are a little quirky. Is Christina going to be quirky, or maybe have your music ability?

Jada Pinkett Smith: (Laughs) I don't know if the TNT audience is ready for my musical ability, but she is definitely going to have her quirks. I am not going to give it away just yet.

Will you be addressing the nursing shortage?

Jada Pinkett Smith: We will be talking about everything -- anything you can think of that is happening in hospitals right now, we will be addressing it: Unions, nursing shortages, wages, hospitals closing down, the conflicts between doctors and nurses and the hierarchy.

How is the economy affecting you and Will?
We are being affected for sure. We have made huge changes. People don't realize that Will and I are first generation, so there are a lot of people who are connected to us who are not as fortunate. We are the first to have done what we do. It is not like we come from doctors and lawyers who are already established. So, it is a lot of folks who depend on us. When you hear about people who are about to get put out of their house, and you have it, how do you say no?

"Hawthorne" debuts on June 16 at 9 p.m. on TNT.