Slackwood Elementary School was rocking last Friday (Sept. 28) as the “Jump with Jill” show came to town. The hour-long, high-energy rock concert is intended to teach elementary school-age students the knowledge and skills they need to combat obesity.
Created by Jill Jayne, known as the “Rockstar Nutritionist,” the multimedia health program has been performed before more than 250,000 children across the United States and Europe, according to the “Jump with Jill” website.
Last Friday, two “Jump with Jill” concerts were held at Slackwood – the first during the school day for Slackwood students, and the second after school for the entire Lawrence Township community.
Held in conjunction with the concerts were a community health fair and a ribbon-cutting ceremony dedicating six new stations of exercise equipment recently installed around the perimeter of the Slackwood school playground.
The new equipment includes a step-up station, stationary cycle, climbing wall, balance beam, chin- and pull-up bar, and a sit-up and push-up station. Slackwood’s PTO provided the mulch and boxing containing each piece of equipment.
Future plans include raising funds to pave a quarter-mile exercise loop around the stations.
The day’s activities were made possible by a $9,970 grant from the Lawrence Township Education Foundation. Slackwood school nurse Joanne McMichael and physical education teacher Patty Weister co-wrote the grant submission.
Performing the role of “Jill” for the two concerts was Kristina Psitos. A certified teacher who was handpicked by Jayne to take “Jump with Jill” on the road, Psitos has performed the show over 150 times.
Describing herself as a performer since the age of 7, Psitos said the show is “all about respecting our bodies because we only get one body.”
During each hour-long show, Psitos mesmerized students with lessons about eating vegetables, exercising, staying away from sugary drinks, drinking lots of water, and forming other lifelong healthy habits. Among the tips she offered was, “If there is a cartoon on your food, it is probably not healthy.”
Township Board of Education member Jo Ann Groeger went to both “Jump with Jill” performances. “This is fun,” she said. “Every child was enjoying, dancing, shouting and totally into her program. At the end when she asked questions, every child knew the right answer.”
“This is exactly want we wanted for our foray into obesity,” school nurse McMichael said. “We needed a nutritional activity, which then fed into a health fair. It turned out so great!”
The health fair followed the outer loop of the school’s blacktop area. It included township organizations like the Lawrence Township Health Department, Lawrence Township Municipal Alliance, Lawrence Hopewell Trail, and the Lawrence Nature Center.
Area health organizations, including Capital Health, Horizon N.J. Health, Hamilton Dental Associates and the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, were also on hand offering free screenings and information.
McMichael recruited her nephew, Ryan McMichael, and members of his Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity from The College of New Jersey to help out by handing out raffle tickets and supporting the event. She even recruited her aunt, Angie, and her friend, Florence, to serve blueberry banana smoothies to everyone.
Slackwood Principal Jay Billy and district Superintendent Crystal Edwards both said they are big fans of “Jump with Jill.”
Of the first concert, Edwards said, “It was excellent! I can’t believe she is still going.” She said she was very pleased with the after-school turnout.
Sue Anderson, whose son Ryan attends Eldridge Park Elementary School, said they came in response to an invite made by Slackwood School to students throughout the district.
“The whole town was invited,” she said. Ryan, meanwhile, could be spotted dancing to the catchy tunes about nutrition and health.
After singing “Super Power Vegetable,” Psitos elicited a promise from the children to try a new vegetable this week. “Parents it can take kids up to 10 times to like a new vegetable. You have to keep trying.” She said vegetables help you “have healthy skin, hair, muscles, eyes and bones.”
The lessons culminated with a quick five-minute recap during which Psitos reinforced all nine lessons she had previously given – including eating a healthy breakfast, enjoying fruit (nature’s candy), respecting your body (you only get one), enjoying superpower vegetables and drinking water. The audience participated by shouting out the key words of each lesson.
Following the concert, Billy invited everyone over for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new exercise equipment. “It has been a dream of ours to help our children stay fit. Our dream is to build a paved path for the whole community to use,” he said.
After the ribbon was cut, more than one hundred children raced through the new exercise trail.