Sonoma native leads nimble Covid response at her Sacramento school

Posted on August 1, 2020 by Sonoma Valley Sun

While many schools in California struggled to educate students via distance learning last spring, a small private school in Sacramento — founded by Sonoma native Sarah Barbulesco-Lamb — transitioned smoothly to distance learning through quick but careful planning and a commitment from students, their families, teachers, and staff. 

“Not a single day of instruction was lost and students continued to have an interactive and engaging educational experience, via Zoom,” Barbulesco-Lamb said. “They interacted with peers both in class and on break and at lunch, all over Zoom. We also provided game nights, an online camping experience, and more to keep the kids connected to their school community.”

Sonoma native Sarah Barbulesco-Lamb

Capital Innovations Academy is an accredited middle and high school that focuses on providing individualized curriculum for 6th-12th graders. 

The CI education incorporates the arts and technology into each lesson and is unique in providing social-emotional lessons. The approach has appealed to a variety of learners over the years and has created an inclusive environment for children who are neurodiverse, gifted and thus young for their grade, struggling academically or socially, or just walk to the beat of a different drum and so don’t fit the mold of a traditional school and instructional model. 

Covid-19 brought new challenges.

“In the early stages of pandemic, our Head of Education (Barbulesco-Lamb) envisioned a quality, remote education experience,” teacher and life coach, Thera Liakos, said. “By the time we launched our first Zoom meeting from home, we had already practiced with the students in the classroom. Sarah knew that utilizing these final moments to prepare students for the new technology and to set learning expectations was essential for the population we serve.” 

Anticipating that the COVID-19 situation might result in a Stay-in-Place for all California students, Barbulesco-Lamb had students and teachers rehearse how they would do distance learning via Zoom. 

CI Academy students, online on March 17, did not miss a single day of full instruction in the transition to distance learning. Each teacher had a permanent Zoom link, allowing students to easily “change classes” from one instructor to another.

In addition to Zoom as a delivery tool for notes and a communication venue for discussions and lectures, the school planned a variety of events to keep students engaged and connected to their school community. Each day, students were welcomed to participate in a lunch Zoom where they could hang out with friends like they would at school. The school also celebrated Earth Day by assigning activities that were to be done in students’ backyards and participated in Varsity Tutor lessons with Neil deGrasse Tyson to learn about astronomy and Miayam Bialik (Big Bang Theory) to learn about neuroscience (above photo).

There even a family game night with scavenger hunts and online games, all using Zoom as a tool to interact. Another popular event was a long-distance camping 

“One of the things I like about online learning is that you don’t have to get up so early, you don’t have to get dressed up, and you can do class in bed sometimes,” said sixth-grader Matthew Flores. “We do fun activities like Earth Day and science experiments in our backyards. The teachers are very patient with us. Even though I miss my friends, they let us hang out with them at lunch where we can socialize and have a fun time.” 

Flores was also one of the students who participated in the school’s first movie made entirely from home. The movie was originally written to be a stage play with some video elements projected on a screen. When the school shutdown occurred, Barbulesco-Lamb, who is also the school’s theater teacher, had to improvise. 

She had students read their lines from home, some using green screen effects to achieve the proper backgrounds. The film was edited by students, and ultimately posted to the school’s YouTube channel. 

Students also had access to the school’s life coach, Liakos, whose job is to give a safe space and guidance to students in order to support their emotional, social, and academic journey. During the COVID-19 pandemic, having this support has been even more essential for students.

“It is not normal for kids to be sitting at home all day, not seeing friends in person or participating in their regular activities,” Barbulesco-Lamb said. “This is an economically and mentally stressful time for adults, but it is especially affecting the mental health of our children.” Because of this, Barbulesco-Lamb knew that being flexible with break time between classes and work deadline extensions was essential. As is always true at CI Academy, the health and well being of students is the first priority. 

To learn more about Capital Innovations Academy, including remote learning from any location, visit

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