A love of rock 'n' roll fuels nutritionist Jill Jayne
May 31, 2012 5:01 PM
Jill Jayne of Oakmont and her group perform in their video for "Nature's Candy."
By Kathleen Ganster
She's a rock 'n' roll singer and a nutritionist -- an unlikely combination, but one that works for Jill Jayne, the "Rockstar Nutritionist."
Jayne of Oakmont said she has combined her "science geek" side with her performer side and created a growing business that earned her a visit with first lady Michelle Obama.
"We created 'Jump with Jill' in response to the requests that I was receiving as a street performer in (New York's) Central Park," she said.
Jayne Pakulski -- who now goes by "Jill Jayne" -- grew up in Natrona Heights and was a self-proclaimed "academic nerd" but also an athlete. The valedictorian of Highlands High School in 2000, she went to Penn State to major in pre-med and music.
Jill Jayne, now 30, found herself performing in the Penn State Thespians and singing, while trying to balance a heavy pre-med curriculum.
"That didn't quite work out -- shocking," she joked. She knew she didn't want to face the long, hard years required in medical school, but she still wanted to combine her two, if unusual, loves.
"While I was a freshman, I started reflecting about my life and what had been important to me," she said.
That reflection made her think about her years as a runner at Highlands and episodes where she was blacking out after a race. When she consulted a registered dietitian, she found out she was suffering from hypoglycemia. After monitoring her diet, the episodes disappeared.
"She had really helped me, and I thought that might be a good career for me," she said.
She also kept performing, both acting and singing. "I'd study science all day, then at 6 p.m., I'd become an actor," Jayne said.
"We had a band that we called 'Rock on State' and had a rock 'n' roll version of the Penn State fight song," she said.
Jayne was joined at Penn State by her younger brother, Mark Pakulski, and they formed a band called Sunset West.
During her studies, Jayne met a producer at a local PBS station and that led to an internship.
"This was just at the beginning of when it was starting to be recognized that childhood obesity was indeed a fact, so I wrote a script and performed about it," she said.
All of this experience served as the seed for what would later be the platform for the company Note to Health that Jayne formed with her brother.
After graduation, she headed to New York City to study at Columbia University for a master's degree in nutrition education and to continue performing.
Her experiences lead her to create "Jump with Jill," a show where she sang and danced to catchy tunes about nutrition. Jayne performed in Central Park and soon developed an audience and requests to visit schools.
"Jump with Jill" developed into a school assembly program that Jayne said "transforms nutrition education into a rock 'n' roll nutrition concert."
Now she travels throughout the country and even has another "Jill," Kristina Psitos, who does the shows in Philadelphia.
In 2011, Jayne performed 150 shows -- a number she has already matched this year since January.
Melinda Gourley, a first-grade teacher at South Butler Primary School, went to high school with Jayne, and when she heard about her curriculum, Ms. Gourley suggested it for a schoolwide assembly.
Jayne gave two presentations, and both were a big hit.
"It was loud and fun -- the kids were up and moving and just having a good time and learning," Ms. Gourley said.
The program has been so well-received that Jayne, with the help of her brother Mark -- who now has a master's in education from Duquesne University -- has developed a calisthenics video series about nutrition and exercise, a "guided taste testing" series called "Rock Your Taste Buds," as well as a nutrition curriculum called Nutrition Rock Innovation.
Students from several school districts -- including Deer Lakes, Butler Area, Riverview, Moon Area, Highlands and Springdale -- are featured in the video. Selea Rodriquez, 8, a student at Brooks Elementary in Moon Area, was one.
Selea's mother, Joan Rodriquez, who is a nurse at Brooks and Hyde elementary schools, learned about the series when Jayne appeared on a local TV show and said she was looking for local children to be featured in the videos.
"It was a lot of fun. We got to talk about nutrition and dance," Selea said.
Not only was it fun, but it was educational for her daughter, her mother noted.
"Plus, she is eating healthier. In the video, they eat broccoli that they dip in salad dressing, and now she does that all of the time," Mrs. Rodriquez said.
For her efforts to promote good nutrition to children, Jayne attended a reception at the White House, where she met Mrs. Obama.
Jayne relocated back to the Pittsburgh area seven months ago to expand her productions and be nearer to her parents, Dave and Prissy Pakulski.
She runs her company from her home in Oakmont.
Now Jayne is also hosting a contest for schools.
Students can watch her video, then make their own dance video and submit it by May 30 for a chance to win $1,000 for their school and a "Watermelon Day" with Jayne.
"The National Watermelon Promotion Board is one of my sponsors, and they are sponsoring the prize money. Then I will visit the school and we will have a dance party and eat watermelon," she said.
Jayne is also hosting her first film festival, during which the winner of the video contest will be announced along with the showing of the new danceable video series and "Rock Your Taste Buds."
The Jump with Jill Film Festival, free and open to the public, is June 2 at the Oaks Theater, 310 Allegheny River Blvd., Oakmont. Doors will open at 1:30 p.m.; show starts at 2. For more information, visit www.jumpwithjill.com.