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A $200,000 program in character education will be instituted in Baltimore's 123 elementary schools this month to help students develop such traits as honesty, punctuality, and self-respect.

Donations from companies and individuals will finance the program, which was approved by the Baltimore Board of Education last month, according to Sharon Green, an educational specialist with the city schools.

The curriculum, developed by the California-based Thomas Jefferson Research Center, is similar to programs implemented in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Phoenix.

Lessons are built around stories, presented in brightly colored workbooks, that illustrate various facets of character development, Ms. Green said.

Teachers will be required to hold a minimum of three 15-minute sessions weekly on character education, she said.

The Dallas Independent School District has received a $1.04-million grant aimed at improving student performance on college-placement examinations and increasing the number of test takers, particularly among minority students.

The three-year award by the Meadows Foundation will finance workshops on test-taking skills and will enable high-school juniors to take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test free of charge. Charges for the Scholastic Aptitude Test will be waived for some students on the basis of need.

Only 18 percent of Dallas's minority 12th graders took the sat last year. "Some of [those who did not] are college material, but they're scared off by these tests," said Rod-ney Davis, a spokesman for the school district.

In 1984, mean sat scores for the district's graduating class--379 for verbal aptitude, 415 for mathematics--were substantially below the mean scores for Texas and the nation, Mr. Davis added.

"Project Early Options," as the new program is known, will also encourage students to enroll in advanced-placement courses and will expand the number of such offerings by providing additional teacher training.

Bowing to parents' objections, the Islip, N.Y., board of education has overturned a policy that required high-school students to perform 120 hours of community service prior to graduation.

The board's vote last month makes the program voluntary for the remainder of the school year. Students who participate will earn credit and a notation on their diploma, said Ray V. Kwak, superintendent of schools.

The board in June had unanimously adopted the mandatory program, based on the idea that "kids ought to give something back to the community from which they get so much," Mr. Kwak said. Mr. Kwak, who proposed the policy, said it was the first of its kind in the state.

In his 1983 book, High School, Ernest L. Boyer, the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, had suggested that schools offer academic credit for community-service work. At least one district--the Atlanta Public Schools--is known to require students to perform community service prior to graduation.

Under the Islip program, students had performed more than 1,000 hours of community service since the school year began, Mr. Kwak said, including taking calls on drug- and alcohol-abuse hotlines, assisting the elderly, tutoring, and cleaning up following Hurricane Gloria.

Mr. Kwak said he proposed the mandatory program because he wanted all students--not only those who regularly volunteer--to participate. But parents objected to the requirement, insisting that the program should be voluntary.

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