She doesn't remember why she got interested, or why she decided to stay with it. But Sally Eskelund was bound and determined to play the trumpet in the West Springfield High School marching band, and now she does -- "Even though it's a 'boys' instrument,' and even though a lot of people wanted me to switch to the flute."

Beth Lobbestael, a quiet, darkhaired 12th grader, is bound and determined to be a veterinarian, even though she knows the risks. "Sometimes people won't bring their pets to lady doctors," she says. "But I know what I want to do."

Karen Prentiss may be about to scale one of the biggest male bastions of all. She hopes to attend the U.S. Naval Academy next fall. And why not? She is a proved leader, having outpolled the same boy each of the last three years for the job of class president. "I know it'll be hard," says Karen, "but I think I can do it."

Shed no tears for the young women in high school today. As West Springfield senior Melissa Tate puts it, "We have grown up in a world where we have never really experienced sex discrimination. We have always been able to stretch ourselves to the limits of our abilities. We expect to. We want to."

At West Springfield, however, there's a special helping hand. Outstanding students of both sexes can qualify for a Gifted and Talented Students program -- the only one of its kind in Fairfax County, and one of only three in the Washington area.

Thirty-eight West Springfield juniors and seniors are taking part in the program this year, including the young women mentioned above. In addition to special college counseling and extended career guidance sessions, these students work after school at jobs that relate to their skills and interests.

The jobs are similar to summer interships that last year-round. The result is an extended, first-hand lesson in how the world works -- and a bolstered sense of confidence and ambition like Melissa Tate's. (Like her idol, Rep. Millicent Fenwick, she wants to be a senator.)

I met with 21 upperclasswomen at West Springfield one recent morning. Only two seek or expect a career in a traditionally female job (fashion design and modeling). But as we went around the room, there wasn't a single vote for teaching, or for real estate sales, or for the typing pool.

Doctor, doctor, lawyer, lawyer is the way it went, with an occasional vote for business or public service. As senior Dawn Sullivan put it, "If you want to be a leader, you can go for it."

But only a fool would assume that sexism is dead, inside West Springfield or outside it. Melissa Tate says the boys in her class "aren't chauvinists at all."

"They're perfectly willing to have you work alongside them, be equal to them," she said. "But they'd be threatened if you were their boss or their leader."

"They're perfectly willing to call you the night before a test if they don't know the answer," said senior Anne Marie Bisone, to a chorus of "that's right" and "uh-huh."

Working in the "real world" has shown these young women that all is not peaches and cream, particularly in cases in which the male ego in involved.

One "Gifted and Talented" member works in a clothing store. She refused a request from her male boss to go to the store and buy a birthday card for his wife. The boss soon put out the word that the young woman was "trying to get out of her place."

Another works in a hospital. Several male West Springfield classmates asked her one day if she wanted to become a nurse. No, a doctor, she told them. "They just said, 'Oh, wow,' in a very negative way," the young woman reported.

But amid the turmoil of finding a career, and the struggle to be taken seriously, there remain other tugs. Marriage and motherhood? Another around-the-room show of hands produced only two of 21 who didn't want both -- and the two admitted that they were leaning.

Perhaps most refreshingly of all, the women of West Springfield don't expect any of it to be easy. "I think we all just want the chance," said Karen Prentiss. "I like challenges. I get the feeling we all do."