Boston students ready to hoop it up in China

Hub students picked for cultural exchange basketball event

From left, Kenneth Ramos Jr., 17, Devon Nance, 17, and Andy Pontes, 18, practiced how to tie a tie, taught by a Brooks Brothers representative, for their upcoming 10-day trip to Beijing.
From left, Kenneth Ramos Jr., 17, Devon Nance, 17, and Andy Pontes, 18, practiced how to tie a tie, taught by a Brooks Brothers representative, for their upcoming 10-day trip to Beijing.

When Andy Pontes was called into his coach’s office at New Mission High School three weeks ago, he got nervous. Had he done something wrong?

The coach sat him down and told him the news. He and seven other Boston public schools students were going to China.

“I was like, ‘What? I’m going to China?’ ’’ Pontes, 18, recalled. “I was just so excited to be outside of the country!’’

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The students leave tomorrow for a 10-day trip to Beijing, where they will compete in a boy’s basketball competition with students from China. The tournament, sponsored and paid for by the Americans Promoting Study Abroad, is meant to encourage cross-cultural exchange.

The students selected for the program hail from seven local high schools, and most have never traveled internationally.

“It’s so important that, graduating from high school, our students are educated to be able to interact with other people across the globe,’’ Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said last week at an information meeting for the students going to China. “We have to help them appreciate and value cultures across the world and develop the skills and knowledge to navigate outside the United States.’’

In recent years, Boston public schools administrators have pushed to bring more travel to students, especially for male students of color, who, according to demographics, are least likely to travel outside of the country with a student group.

For that, they turned to Bethany Wood, the coordinator of global education at the Boston public schools and one of the China trip organizers.

“All students, not just a few of our students, should have the opportunity to see the world,’’ Wood said.

Wood, a longtime traveler, has backpacked in countries such as India, Cambodia, and Vietnam during summer vacations. In 2005, she won a Fulbright grant to teach in Ghana for a year. When she returned, she began bringing students with her on her travels.

“I never thought there could be anything better than travel,’’ Wood said, “and then I did it with kids.’’

The eight boys, chosen by their headmasters in consultation with teachers and coaches, were overjoyed when they were called into administrators’ offices three weeks ago and informed of the trip.

“I just feel spoiled,’’ said Kevin Bernardez, 17, who attends Madison Park High School. “It feels like a Christmas gift.’’

And it is a gift his mother, Antonia Bernardez, said he deserves

“He is a good student, so dedicated,’’ Bernardez said. “I’m so happy for him.’’

Kenneth Ramos Sr. knew that his son, Kenneth Ramos Jr., 17, , always wanted to go to China. Growing up, the boy was obsessed with martial arts movies—Jackie Chan films were his favorite—and begged to keep watching long after the rest of his family wanted to change the channel.

When Ramos got a call from his son’s school three weeks ago and heard that the teen had been chosen for an all-expenses-paid trip to Beijing to play in an international basketball tournament, he could not contain himself.

“I was blown away,’’ Ramos recalled. “They said, ‘Don’t tell him yet,’ but I probably told him 15 minutes after’’

In recent weeks, the students have received lessons on what to expect during their travels, as well as basic lessons on how to greet and thank people in Mandarin.

The students will also be traveling in style. Businesses and organizations from the region donated wardrobes and gear for the young men, including: sneakers and basketball shoes from the Boston Scholar Athlete Program; duffel bags and jersey from New Balance; and warm-up jackets and basketballs from the Boston Celtics.

And most impressive: eight navy, single-breasted, notched-lapel suit jackets, to be worn during the team’s pre- and post-game press conferences.

John O’Connell, a sales associate at Brooks Brothers menswear store, escorted the jackets to their new owners and provided style tips for their appearance.

“Who does not know how to tie a tie?’’ he asked the students.

Half raised a hand. O’Connell gave a short tutorial, telling them to check YouTube if they forget whether the fat side goes over or under the skinny side.

Highlights of their intinerary includes a visit to the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, and the landmarks of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

On the last night, the students will attend a concert with pop star and Kenneth Ramos Jr.’s idol, actor Jackie Chan. Afterward, they will meet the celebrities.

“I’m going to tell him I’m his biggest fan,’’ Ramos said.