Seneca Valley educator finalist for state award

| Saturday, March 15, 2014, 2:27 p.m.

Seneca Valley Senior High School teacher Jim Lucot has made it his business to motivate students to do more.

“These kids are all capable of more, and some of them don't realize what they're capable of,“ he said.

“I'm very fortunate to do what I do. I'm really lucky, and I truly enjoy going in every day. I hope 20 years from now I still enjoy going every day.”

His hard work is being recognized. Lucot, 47, of Cranberry was named a semi-finalist in the 2015 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year competition.

The competition looks at experience, professional credits, community involvement and personal motivations.

The social studies teacher was nominated by former student Samantha Franks, 18, a 2013 Seneca Valley graduate who said she's never had a teacher impact her life as much as Lucot has.

During her senior year, she asked Lucot to write her a letter of recommendation for nursing school.

He refused, saying “you'll be smarter than half the residents on your first day.” He urged her to instead pursue pre-med.

“That had been my dream all along, but I doubt myself a lot, and he was the person to give me that confidence to follow my dream,” Franks said. “No one did that before.”

In her second semester of a pre-med and biology track at Robert Morris University, Franks said it was absolutely the right choice to make.

“I'm so much more excited about my future now,” she said. “Looking back, I didn't know where I'd be if he didn't come into my life at the time that he did.”

Lucot said it's just part of his job to urge kids to reach their full potential, just as his high school teachers did for him.

The veteran teacher with 12 years in the classroom didn't get his start in education.

Lucot said he worked for 12 years as a nurse before pursuing his dream of becoming an educator.

He received a certificate in social studies secondary education from Robert Morris University in 2001.

“I didn't have a conventional upbringing. I think a lot of adolescents today don't, but I had two teachers in high school that were very caring of me,” he said.

“I was a pretty average athlete and academically, and they saw something in me. They took time with me and looked after me and took care of me. During my eight hours at school, it was a place I felt safe, cared for and wanted to be. And if I could just do that for one student...”

He's done that and more for many of his students. Last fall with the help of Lucot's wife and children, Franks secretly rounded up letters from 50 current and former students telling Lucot how much he's impacted their lives.

Fellow Seneca Valley graduate Ian Whittaker, a graphic designer, helped her bind the letters in a book, and the two gave it to Lucot for Christmas.

“About 50 percent of the kids I hadn't stayed in touch with, and they wrote about things I didn't know were so significant in their lives,” Lucot said about the book.

“That was really powerful. It's probably my most valuable possession.”

Lucot will be notified this month if he advances to the regional finalist round.

The state winner will be announced later this year.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or

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