Initiatives at local schools made Cochrane a dual winner at this year's Emerald Awards.

Manachaban's W.I.L.D. program for outdoor adventuring won in the educational category, and the Cochrane High's sustainable development committee won the climate change challenge award.

It's the second Emerald for the CHS committee. The students took on the enormous challenge of completing its latest initiative.

The 50.05 kWh photovoltaic rooftop system installed is capable of offsetting 8.3 per cent of the school's electrical consumption from traditional carbon sources. Additionally, it reduced the school's C02 emissions.

Travis Price and Emilio Spagnolo are the longest-standing members of the committee. They were both in grade 10 when the committee decided to take on the project in October 2017.

The committee tended to many details, but the biggest challenge was raising about $110,000 for its installation.

It was an economically trying time even before the pandemic. Many of their strong financial backers from the past simply couldn't step forward.

"We had a couple of businesses who said they would contribute to the project but a couple of months later said it was no longer viable," explains Price.

Committee members persevered and gave seemingly endless presentations and completed numerous grant applications. Even then, they were short.

Putting them over the top was an innovative adopt-a-panel campaign that allowed for smaller contributions.

"As we worked towards it, it seemed more and more possible," says Price. "It was a great journey."

Both expressed gratitude to the sponsors who made it possible (see the list in the attached story).

Being involved in the project is something that will stay with the students.

"It will keep us more mindful of the environment going forward," says Spagnolo. "I think it might help get us involved in other sustainability projects."

Exactly what is next for the committee will start to be hammered out in the fall. They were originally going to be working with the town on a major solar energy project, but that grant application was unsuccessful.

The sustainability committee has been active for over 15 years, and in that time has been shortlisted four times for an Emerald. They won an Emerald for the first phase of their solar panel array in 2005.

Nancy Pollard, the creator of the acclaimed grade 8 W.I.L.D. program of the École Manachaban Middle School, was thrilled the program was recognized.

"It's great because it creates an awareness of the program and will hopefully encourage other people to do the same kind of program."

She thanks the school division, her principals and colleagues, students, and parents for helping to make it possible.

The program received a $5,000 grant, the largest offered at the Emerald Awards this year.

The Alberta Beverage Container Recycling Corporation provided $3,000 on top of a joint contribution of $2,000 from the Emeralds and Syncrude.

Pollard has no problem finding places to use the funds.

"We need new tents, it will help us purchase a lot of purification filter systems, and it will also help get us out on the trips."

The current pandemic eliminated the traditional awards banquet. Each finalist found a way to make it special.

Pollard held a mini-banquet at her home with some teaching colleagues.

"Everyone dressed up and wore their kind of black gown clothing. They got me some flowers, we had some appetizers and then sat out on the back deck trying to do the socially acceptable thing of distancing and had a nice little party as we listen to the Emeralds."

When she wasn't unmuted to give a speech, she thought W.I.L.D. hadn't won.

"And then they called me. It was quite shocking and it was very exciting."

It was Price who gave the acceptance speech for the Cochrane High committee.

While students weren't able to come together at a banquet, some did drop by the home of teacher Stephanie Bennett to present her a gift of thanks.

Earlier this spring, the two were shortlisted as finalists in their respective categories.

There have been several Cochrane area nominees and award winners over the years, but this is the first time two initiatives have won in the same year.