Panther Blog

Let’s Talk Routines! 

August 2021- Written by Mrs. Karen Duff, SJCS Guidance Counselor 

Greetings! Please allow me to extend a warm welcome to all of our Panther families! My name is Mrs. Karen Duff, and as your school guidance counselor, I am an additional resource at St. James Cathedral School to help your children feel their best emotionally and socially. Let’s talk routines! Not only do routines provide structure that children’s brains crave, but they result in more peaceful households. Below I offer some suggestions for establishing routines, but note that while you as the parent may establish the routine, the tips are written for the child, as the goal is to utilize structures that facilitate independence – even from our youngest Panthers! 

When you hear the words “morning routine” or “homework”, what feelings or thoughts come to mind?  

If these words do not bring about a sense of peace or calmness, there are things you can change to make things easier! 

Morning Routines

Your child’s morning routine should actually start the night before! Anything you can do the evening prior saves precious time in the morning so you won’t feel so rushed.  

To Do Before Bedtime – Kids can… 

  • Set out a complete uniform, including socks, shoes, and a mask. 
  • Fill up a water bottle and put it in the fridge. 
  • Pack a snack and as much of your lunch as possible. 
  • Make sure your backpack is packed, and your homework is in there!  
  • Set your alarm clock. Put it in a spot in your room that is out of reach, so you can’t easily hit snooze. I highly recommend that kids have a separate alarm clock from their phone so that all devices can be kept out of the bedroom at night.  
  • Follow the above suggestions and then move on to the 4 B’s – Brush (teeth), Bath, Book, and Bedtime (prayer and lights out). 

In the Morning – Kids can… 

  • Start the day off on a positive note! Say a positive affirmation to yourself in the mirror and thank God for a new day.  
  • Eat breakfast! There are many benefits of eating breakfast. Kids who eat breakfast have better concentration, moods, and behavior, as well as longer attention spans, increased energy, and more! It’s best to allow an extra 10 minutes in the morning to eat a healthy breakfast, but if time is an issue, have plenty of grab-and-go items on hand. There are oatmeal cups, Just Crack an Egg Cups, muffin packs, pastry crisps, breakfast cookies, and cereal bars, just to name a few. 
  • After getting dressed and brushing your hair and teeth, you should be ready to walk out the door since you got everything ready the night before! 

Many children benefit from a visual chart or checklist to reinforce routines. You could also have older siblings help younger siblings with their morning or evening tasks. Try to shift as much of the responsibility to your children as possible. 


Homework Habits

Follow these easy homework tips, and there will be no need for excuses! 

Homework Routine Tips — 

  • Got evening activities? Do as much homework as possible in the car. Even if you only get 10 problems completed out of 20, that’s 10 less problems you have to do after practice! If you’re doing homework in the car, make sure you keep supplies in the car – put a pencil and calculator in a compartment close to you. Pack an extra snack, and make sure your water bottle is filled up before you leave school. Use headphones for white noise if the radio is on loud … or if you have talkative siblings. 
  • When you get home from school, it’s ok to take a short break before starting your homework, but use a timer on your device (or tell Alexa to set a timer for you!) so you don’t get distracted. A 15-minute break is ideal. 
  • If you have questions, make sure you check your planner, Dojo or RenWeb (depending on your grade), or message a friend for help. Get a few friends’ numbers during school so you can ask them questions or study with them via FaceTime after school. 
  • Do your hardest or most time-consuming homework assignments first so you can get them out of the way. 
  • Where do you do your homework? No matter where you choose to complete your homework at home, make sure you have as few distractions as possible. A quiet environment is preferred, but if you need some noise, make sure the noise is more like a “white noise”, such as a fan or music, but make sure you’re not listening to songs with lyrics that you’ll want to sing along to! If being in the same room as your favorite gaming console is going to be a temptation for you, move your homework spot to a different location. 
  • Parents, here click HERE for the Top 10 Homework Tips from Nemours Kids Health. Their tips are really good! 

Parents, if you are interested in more information about my role as a school counselor at St. James, I encourage you to explore my virtual counseling office here. Click on ‘Info for Parents’ to view a slideshow about me and the school counseling services I offer. Click on the ‘Virtual Calming Site’ for exercises in guided relaxation, soothing sounds, Catholic comfort, and more! Students can click on the books on the bookshelf for stories with a counseling-related theme. There is also a basket students can click on for an interactive virtual calm down exercise.  

If there is anything I can do for your child this school year, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at 

Pathways to Learning

January 2021 – Written by Mrs. Anna Lee Cathcart, ESE Middle School Resource Teacher

It is hard to believe we are halfway through the school year! Our Panther students continue to be introduced to new critical thinking strategies, approaches, and organization skills here at St. James Cathedral School. With the guidance and support of our Administration team, our Resource Department frequently reflects on current practices to ensure we are best serving all Panther students. Elementary and primary learners continue to be supported by members of our team “pushing in” to the regular classroom setting to facilitate groups and offer strategies to the classroom teacher to support differentiation. The Resource teachers also work with students in small, pull-out groups for those needing additional support. Lastly, some students participate in the ALPHA (Advanced Learning Program for Higher Achievement) program that is offered for those students whose scores qualify them for this once weekly option and who would benefit from the challenge and extension of the classroom curriculum. This year, we have initiated some new and different learning opportunities and programs to support all middle school students.


ALEKS & Math Labs

The first new middle school offering is Math Lab which all middle school learners attend once per week (in addition to pupils’ daily math classes). Students participate in a variety of tailored activities and tasks to support the current concepts being taught in class. The plans for Math Labs are created collaboratively by the middle school math teachers and are tailored to address needs of the students and to extend exposure to standards covered during regularly scheduled math classes. Math Lab includes projects that ask students to demonstrate application of math skills in a real-life context, learning games and activities that reinforce the standards, and the use of a new computer program called ALEKS. A research-based online, adaptive math program, ALEKS, begins by administering a foundational assessment of math skills to every student. From this baseline assessment, the program creates an individual learning path for each child. ALEKS constantly monitors individual student mastery of math standards. This online program supports those students struggling with mastering math concepts, as well as offers an enrichment opportunity for those learners who excel in the subject area and need to be challenged. ALEKS provides valuable feedback for teachers and the academic support team to best tailor lessons and instruction to meet the needs of each student.


Weekly Meetings

Collaboration is a vital part of supporting all students. Every week, each division (Preschool, Primary, Intermediate, and Middle) meets for a lunch team meeting. This scheduled time provides a chance to communicate with colleagues and Administration. Conversation topics range from discussing students’ strengths/opportunities for improvement, determining how teachers can best work together to address student needs, to collectively looking at data and identifying any possible/necessary adjustments to learning strategies and/or instructional practices, to sharing new ideas, and much more.

Learning Lab & The Power Hour

For those students with documentation of a specific learning need, SJCS has created a Learning Lab that takes place twice weekly in lieu of Spanish class. The Learning Lab provides an opportunity for students to strengthen study skills, receive additional support on assignments, as well as other accommodations. Additionally, after-school on Tuesdays and Thursdays we offer “The Power Hour.” This class provides a structured, quiet environment for students to work on assignments, prepare for tests, and to receive academic help when needed.  

As we continue to learn and grow as a community based in Christ’s love, I leave you with one of my favorite Bible verses below. I, with all my heart, know that each child that walks through our doors has been blessed with his or her own unique gifts. It is our role as educators to support and help every child develop these God-given gifts to his or her full potential. Christ is with all of us on this journey. 

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

Let’s Talk Faith, Family, & Fall!

October 18, 2020- Written by Mrs. Karen Duff, SJCS Guidance Counselor 

Parents, we have done it!

We have settled into our new school year routine, and I must compliment you on how wonderful your children are doing with all the new changesAs your school counselor, I have enjoyed visiting all of the classrooms and meeting your children. I find myself thanking God often that we can gather again as a school community! 

Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go; Even When He is Old, He Will Not Depart from It – Proverbs 22:6 

Now that the school year is underway, what are some important things for parents to think about? With my own four children, I have noticed that homework is starting to pick up. We, as parents, know that a good homework routine can set up child up for great success, but reminders are always helpful! Read this article from Nemours to ensure you have the best homework set-up for your children: Top 10 Homework Tips. Also, don’t be afraid to say no to video games or cell phone usage until after homework and chores are completed for the day! 

Sweet Friendships Refresh the Soul and Awaken Our Hearts with Joy – Proverbs 27:9 

After such a long time without seeing friends, our students are so excited to see their friends again! For a great article on friendships, click HERE. This Scholastic article gives a basic run down of what to expect out of your child’s friendships at each age, as well as tips for parents to help their children navigate through new situations or sticky situations. If you’re pressed for time, scroll towards the bottom and take note of the bulleted list of ways parents can help! 

Your Beginnings Will Seem Humble, So Prosperous Will Your Future Be – Job 8:7 

“Beginnings” are great times to focus on setting goals – the beginning of a New Year or even the beginning of the school year! Teachers and parents help children set academic goals for the school year, but my challenge to families is to set a spiritual goal for your family. If you need some ideas on where to start, I recommend reading the article Praying as a Family for suggestions on how to incorporate more prayer into your daily family life. There are some very easy suggestions that your family can start today! 

When Anxiety Was Great Within Me, Your Consolation Brought Me Joy – Psalm 94:19 

Please know I keep your children in my prayers daily. I know anxieties and worries continue to be a challenge for many of us. Here are some Bible verses for when you are anxious, and you are always welcome to browse through the resources provided in my Virtual Calming RoomRemember to attend weekly Sunday masses, pray daily, and follow the Catholic teachings as often as possible – and you can take comfort in knowing you have made God the Number 1 priority in your life! 

32 – 825 – & YOU!

September 27, 2020 – SJCS Golf Committee

As we approach our 32nd Annual golf Tournament on Friday, October 23rd at 8am at Dubsdread Golf Course, we wanted to introduce you to a tournament legend, Dr. Colin Condron. He is one of hundreds of Panther supporters throughout the years who by playing in and/or sponsoring the community event have made a difference in the lives of over 825 children. You are invited to join in the fun, fellowship, and fundraising, and see Dr. Condron play in his 32nd SJCS tournament — that’s right, he is 32/32!

Dr. Colin Condron, a long-time St. James Cathedral parishioner, heard about the community event the year of its inception (prior to having any relationship to SJCS) and signed up to play as a way to have fun and make a difference. 32 years later and he hasn’t missed a tournament yet! He looks forward to the special placemats made by the students each year as they bring him great joy! Now with five SJCS Panther grandchildren, Dr. Condron shared, “I’ve continued to support the tournament each year because of the positive impact St. James Cathedral School has made on my grandchildren’s lives, and I want to help provide that opportunity to other kids.” Thanks, Dr. Condron, for your faithful support of a Christ-centered education!


Feeling Back-to-School Anxiety? God can help … and I have some tips, too! 

August 23, 2020- Written by Mrs. Karen Duff, SJCS Guidance Counselor 


It’s Back to School Time!  

Parents, whether your children will be with us for face-to-face instruction or joining us for the virtual option, we are ready and excited to welcome them back to school! Now, let’s flip things around for a moment. Are YOU ready and excited to send your kids back to school? If you or your children are feeling anxious, you are certainly not alone. Wknow that not all students will bound through our school doors with confidence and ease; many will bring worries and a variety of emotions with them. Please know that whether it takes your child 2 days, 2 weeks, or 2 months to adjust to coming back to school, we will greet students every morning with a smile and offer lots of encouragement and reassurance throughout the day. Children perform very well with structure and routine, so with time and patience, thanxiety will lessen once they feel that routine is in place.  

Don’t Forget the Prayer 

As parents, we remember to send our children to school with a good night’s sleep, a healthy breakfast, a clean uniform, and their completed homework, but let’s not forget to send them off with a prayer from us! Many of us are comfortable praying to God using our own words, but feel free to click HERE for Bible verses that relate to school.   

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare! 

  • Familiarize your children with the changes they will see in school this year. Emphasize calmly that these new procedures are in place because they are meant to keep everyone healthy and safe. (Click HERE for tips to help our youngest Panthers wear a mask!) 
  • Handwashing is more important than everMy hope is that our Preschool and Kindergarten teachers are proud that their incoming students can already count to 20 (from practicing at home counting to 20 while washing their hands)! 
  • Need general back-to-school anxiety tips? Click HERE. Remind students that when they are at school, they can always take several slow, deep breaths, say a prayer or recite a comforting Bible verse in their heads, or seek out a safe adult to talk with to help with anxiety.

Keep Calm. Your School Counselor Can Help. 

If you have concerns about your child, feel free to contact me at to discuss available options. There are online resources I can provide to your family, and there are in-school options available for your child, such as daily or weekly check-ins, short-term individual counseling sessions, and group counseling sessions. I will also be visiting the classrooms throughout the school year for whole class lessons on social and emotional topics. Additionally, please share this Meet the School Counselor video with your child! 

For Virtual Options, I’ve Got You Covered! 

For a sampling of virtual resources, I have created a website just for you! It is my hope that this website will provide your family with additional helpful resources 24/7. There are exercises to help with anxiety as well as links to articles and videos that address mental health needs. The website is available by clicking HERE.

Know that I will be praying for you and your children every day as we transition back to school!  

St. James Cathedral School