NEW BEDFORD — In the city’s near North End, Global Learning Public Charter School (GLCPS) recently christened its long-awaited expansion project, the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Center for STEAM Education. By growing within the singular city block it shares with the towering St. Anthony of Padua church, the school will expand its footprint by more than 18,000 square feet.

The Light toured the facility in only its second week of operation to witness the former convent’s $8 million rebirth. Now, the laboratories, classrooms, and faculty and student gathering spaces are full of life and “STEAM education,” which the school says stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math.


The bright, clean hallways are trafficked by almost all of the school’s 500 students, but two of the three floors are designated for use by high schoolers. All secondary math, science, and language classes — including algebra, chemistry, Spanish, environmental science, and Portuguese — are housed on these upper levels. 

Cape Verdean, Portuguese and Brazilian flags hang over the preserved stained glass windows in the new Joan and Irwin Jacobs Center for STEAM Education, a former convent building. Credit: Colin Hogan / The New Bedford Light
Middle school students in a first-floor art classroom worked on two-dimensional drawings. Credit: Colin Hogan / The New Bedford Light

Students like Maddox Merrey and Brianna Medina, both seniors, will walk across the parking lot from the school’s main building during the day.

“It’s been really great so far,” these seniors agreed while leading a tour into many active classrooms, pointing out updates like a ventilation hood in the chemistry labs and a clay kiln in the first-floor art room.

As for its architecture, some of the classrooms preserve the building’s history. In the language rooms, Shannon Saffle and Mia Correia, who teach Spanish and Portuguese, respectively, are lit by stained glass windows that were preserved through the construction. Ms. Correia has draped Portuguese, Brazilian, and Cape Verdean flags that enhance a luminous effect.

These language rooms, as well as art, music, and technology classes for all grades, are slowly settling into their own space, some for the first time. Previously, some art and technology teachers would store their materials on a cart, wheeling around to open classrooms throughout the day, students said. 

Ms. Montero teaches in the “Thinkabit Lab,” a technology and innovation lab sponsored by Qualcomm, in the new Joan and Irwin Jacobs Center for STEAM Education. Credit: Colin Hogan / The New Bedford Light

The first floor of the building now has a “Thinkabit” lab, a technology and innovation classroom sponsored by Qualcomm, the company co-founded by New Bedford native Irwin Jacobs, whose name joins his wife’s on the building exterior after a reported $2 million donation for the Center. (Jacobs is also a founding donor to The Light.) 

One noteworthy feature is a college and career counseling suite, where juniors and seniors were lounging on couches and elevated stools, each taking a different asynchronous, online course through a dual enrollment program with Bristol Community College.

In a new College and Career Center, Ashley McPherson, its director, helps students find internships and take on dual enrollment coursework. Credit: Colin Hogan / The New Bedford Light

Ashley McPherson, director of the college and career center, was in the room to oversee about a dozen students as they worked. She estimated that 40 students overall — mostly seniors — had this dual enrollment time carved into their schedules, and that she was hoping to grow the program.

“We brainstormed the ideal space,” McPherson said, “and got everything we asked for.”

GLCPS spends a similar amount (on a per-student basis) on its 500 students (grades 5-12) as does New Bedford Public Schools on its 12,500 students. GLCPS has a blind lottery, meaning all who apply have an equal chance of admission, but the school does not have the same percentage of special education or English Learner students as New Bedford’s district schools. 

Email Colin Hogan at

Editor’s note: This post was modified on Wednesday, March 8, 2023 to correct an error in the GLCPS press release describing what STEAM stands for.

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