By Anna Defendiefer, Communications Intern
Writing and performing dozens of songs about healthy foods is certainly an uncommon specialty, and I was curious as to how Jill got her inspiration. Growing up, Jill was an ambitious student, performing in her school’s musicals and running for the cross country team, while also achieving valedictorian status. After graduating, these interests merged and led Jill to pursue a nutritional sciences and theater at Penn State University. Her self-proclaimed “big break” came in 2003, when she dressed up as a cow in a video segment about nutrition. Fully embracing the silliness of the segment, Jayne realized she could use her physical humor to work with nutrition in a different way than most dieticians. She realized she had a voice that spoke to kids, and she could make a real difference in nutrition education.
It was in 2006 when the first seeds for Jump with Jill were planted. As part of her master’s thesis, Jill performed a free nutrition and rock and roll street show in New York’s Central Park. Shortly after, Jill signed a record deal and released her debut Jump with Jill album, followed by her first national tour performing for youth across the country. With silly lyrics like “when your craving is cruising for a healthy dose of got your back with that off the hook flavor” from her song “Sweet Beat,” her mix of nutrition education with humor and entertainment was a hit with students.
Until 2011, Jill and her brother performed in every single Jump with Jill show - about 300 a year. When Jill received a call from the city of Philadelphia requesting 150 shows for their students in the coming school year, she knew that she had to make changes to her business structure, quickly shifting her role from performer to businesswoman. Hiring her first Jill “doppelgangers,” she switched from a brother-sister startup to a real company. Now managing a staff of multiple “Jills” and DJ’s, she “took a step back from performing to make the mission possible.”
Notably, Jill only hires certified teachers as performers in her show. That’s because her ultimate goal is to teach - in an unconventional way - that healthy foods can be exciting and interesting. According to Jill, students only “need ten doses of something to impact behavior.” This philosophy led Jill to create a toolkit containing lesson plans and activities that teachers can easily implement in the classroom after kids have taken part in the performance.
“Every message place counts,” Jill says. “Use watermelons in a math problem instead of pizza slices. Serve apples and cheese as a snack. Make healthy habits entertaining. Kids are learning by what they’re seeing, not what you’re telling them.” She emphasizes that teachers don’t have to make up these lessons if they’re not confident in their ability to teach about nutrition - Jill has already crafted them. The resources she provides to teachers have a 100% utilization rate after the show.
Admiring the dedication and creativity of Jill and her staff to teaching students about such a critical topic, I asked if she has one main idea she wants to convey through her performances. With no hesitation, she said that “you only get one body - one body for your entire life! You are responsible for making healthy choices for your body. You own it.”
Jill and her team have now conveyed that message over 3,000 times, and that number will only continue to grow.