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A character-education program being tested in two Weber schools has decreased disciplinary problems, improved self-esteem and enhanced student-teacher relationships, a preliminary evaluation concluded.

The program has gained approval from most parents and teachers who told evaluators they view character education as more critical than science and social studies.Steven Plewe, chief investigator for the Institute for Research & Evaluation in Salt Lake City, said parents surveyed ranked character education third in importance behind reading and math.

Using a state grant, Hooper Elementary School Principal Jerry Lerohl and third-grade teacher Gloria Skanchy worked with teachers at the Hooper school and Riverdale's Club Heights Elementary to develop the program at the two schools.

Curriculum developed has been taught differently at the two schools, but the goal of all lessons is to teach children the importance of self-esteem, self-discipline, responsibility, personal integrity and tolerance.

Plewe said 75 percent of the surveys sent home with children at the two schools were returned. He also interviewed teachers and principals and tested first-, third- and fifth-graders at Hooper and Club Heights.

According to his preliminary report, 90 percent of all parents responding said they want their schools to teach character education, while 100 percent of all teachers said they think the program should remain.

Plewe's early findings show that instances of bullying and tattling declined at the two schools and indicate that children got better at solving their own problems peacefully.

At Hooper, Lerohl reported that the number of student fights decreased from 78 in 1988 to 21 in 1989.