Orientation: Junior year February through June
Operation Understanding’s program begins in February of a student’s junior year of high school. During this time students become oriented to the history, religion, and culture of the African American and Jewish communities through workshops, lectures, group activities and meetings. They plant the seeds of trust and empathy while coming to understand each community’s collective and specific experiences. Experiential learning is a cornerstone of the Operation Understanding experience. As students build the bridges toward a more complex understanding of their own and each other’s cultures, they welcome one another into their homes and families for Passover Seders and Easter celebrations.
Summer Study Journey
The second phase of Operation Understanding involves a three-week intensive summer-study travel experience to historical and cultural sites meaningful to both groups. During this travel experience students are welcomed by leaders of communities they visit and break bread with grassroots innovators that engage on a daily basis in the effort to develop cross-cultural understanding in their communities. Each night students return to process the events of the day and are encouraged by trained group leaders to dive deeply into their own experiences, reactions and to question each other about long-held beliefs, developing the skills necessary to disagree without being disagreeable. At this point students begin to imagine themselves as agents of change in the effort of understanding and embracing diversity.
Senior Year: Community Engagement
In the fall of their senior year students come together to turn their experiences into resources for leadership during their Fall Leadership Retreat where they learn how to facilitate discussions, lead diversity workshops and speak to groups throughout the Philadelphia area. Ongoing leadership training, cross-cultural studies and experiences inform students’ capacity to lead workshops on diversity, conflict resolution, the dangers of stereotypes and developing an appreciation of difference. Through these activities and ongoing community service Operation Understanding participants reach hundreds in the Philadelphia area sharing a message of cross-cultural harmony and acceptance.
Operation Understanding is a trail-blazer in its mission and desire to create opportunities for our participants. Each year the current class elects two representatives to serve as full voting members of the Operation Understanding board of directors. Two representatives are also selected each year to participate in the selection process for the next class. The responsibility of these roles is not lost on our students as they see their actions directly impact the lives of their own class, future classes and Operation Understanding as a whole.
...In order to be devoted to diversity, we must be accepting. In order to spread acceptance, we must be leaders and in order to be effective leaders, we must take action." - Emma Feyler '12
OU '09 students meet with Mayor Young, of Philadelphia Mississippi, the city’s first African American mayor.