Brian Flay, a professor at Oregon State University's School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences, said the program included organized activities to build character that go beyond more traditional rules or policies to control or punish problem behaviors.
However, the program took only about 1 hour a week away from traditional education, Flay said.
The program -- implemented in 20 elementary schools in Hawaii -- included a school-wide climate development component, teacher and staff training, parent and community involvement, continued positive reinforcement and other techniques.
Topics in the program were related to self-concept, physical and intellectual actions, managing oneself responsibly, getting along with others, being honest and self-improvement, Flay said.
The study, published in the Journal of School Health, found teachers said this approach improved "overall school quality" by 21 percent, with parents and students agreeing in slightly smaller numbers. School quality, defined for the purposes of the study, included a safe environment, involvement and satisfaction among individuals, student support, continuous improvement, standards-based learning and other features.
Previous results showed 72 percent fewer suspensions, 15 percent less absenteeism and national tests showed a 9 percent improvement in academic subjects, Flay said.