Deborah Robinson handled it - she coped.

Both of her parents had been dead for more than four years but the 14-year-old did not withdraw, get into trouble or turn to drugs. She got good grades, and yesterday she received an award for her effort.

Deborah was one of 34 eight-graders from District of Columbia schools who received brass and wooden plaques yesterday for achieving high grades despite the handicaps of poverty, illness and parentless or broken homes.

The awards were given to the students as part of the Creative Leasdership Program coordinated by the Howard University School of Education which helped select the students.

"These children come from environments where you wouldn't expect them to succeed," said Willie Howard, dean of the School of Education. "And yet they've pushed on and made it to the top."

The youngsters met with Howard professors and students, in addition to receiving the awards yesterday. The meetings were designed to give the students information about their favorite field of study and possible careers.

Frederick Dickey, an eighth-grader dressed in a three-piece suit, met with third-year Howard law student Jerry McClellan.

Dickey, who wants some day to be an attorney, asked McClellan about law school and college as he tried to determine what sort of education and background would be best for a lawyer.

"I'd think the most important thing for a lawyer would be understanding people," said Dickey. "how do you learn to see into what they're thinking."

McClellan replied that he studied psychology and a wide range of related subjects while in undergraduate school.

Samuel Woodward, director of the Creative Leadership Program, which is funded to help developed leadership among black people, said the aim of the awards program was to encourage the eighth-graders to continue their efforts in school.

"We don't want these kids to go on ignored, without the recognition they deserve," Woodward said. "These people are future leaders and they need to be urged on."

Woodward said the 34 students attained exceptionally high scores on a test the leadership program gave eighth-grade students throughout the city.

The program focused on the students' concept of themselves their grades, their leadership skills and home situation.