On a cool, bright and sunny day, made for a spirit-lifing parade, 12-year-old James Jackson, captain of a school safety patrol team, was seening to it that the unit was ready to perform.

In a few minutes they would be on Constitution Avenue NW, marching past an eager and attentive audience of 80,000 persons who filled the steps of public buildings and lined the curbs.

Now he was putting his squad through their paces on the nearby Mall. Dressed in bright lime green jackets, wearing caps with see-through green visors and the familiar bright orange safety patrol belts across their chests, they would soon be in cometition with about 10,000 other school children, who as members of bands or of other patrol troops, were vying for the title of the parade's best performers.

"We're going to do a lot of double-stepping and high-stepping" said Jackson, wearing on his patrol belt the traditional silvery badge of the American Automobile Association, which sponsors and supports both the patrols and the parade.

'When we really get going," said Jackson, a student at Moten Elementary School in Southeast, "we're going to give them the double fake to the rear and then come back with the salute." He whirled quickly about and snapped off a quick salute.

In platoons and battalions, other safety patrol members seemed to swarm everywhere in the boisterous exuberance of youth on a brilliant Saturday afternoon in May.

Drums boomed, bugles blew, principals and group leaders shouted marching orders. Parents gave last-minute tugs at the uniforms of off-spring while other children, heedless and unconcerned, scrambled happily over the grass in impromptu games of tag.

It was the 47th annual safety patrol parade, held this year to honor the 26,000 students in the Washington area who help keep guide their fellow students through traffic while going to and from school.

The grand marshal of the parade was William DeRosa, the first safety patrol captain in the city, who in 1926 helped students cross Georgia Avenue NW on their way to and from Brightwood Elementary School.

Along the parade route spectators were pointed with pride as their children marched by and conversations returned again and again to memories of the adults' own days as members of the safety patrol.

"I always wanted to be an officer," said Mack Bennett, a resident of the District, who attended Bunker Hill Elementary School. "I thought that was really something . . . until I saw the kids here today I'd forgotten all about how important that was to me back then."

The safety patrol is an old idea that wears its age well," said Alice Biby, a parent who was helping children from Drew Elementary School in the Green Valley section of Arlington, finish last-minute preparations for marching. "The kids are still anxious to join and they like it."

About 135 children from the E. J. Johnson Junior High School in southeast Washington took part in the parade. They were dressed in all-black uniforms with the green-eyed head of a black panther embroidered on the back. Representing Johnson was a marching band, majorettes, pompon girls and a rifle drill team.

"We've got three songs we can play," said 10-year-old drum major Kenneth Johnson who had on a yellow cape and a white drum major's hat as he stood considering which song his band would play. "It could be Rocky, How Deep is your Love or Big Bam Boogaloo."

The 10-year-old chose "Rocky."

Across the mall two marines, in their dress blue uniforms and full displays of medals, towered over the safety patrol guards from Tyler Elementary. The marines, Lance Corporal Otis Thomas, and Staff Sgt. Melvin Green, had spent two weeks drilling the children in preparation for the parade.

"I grew up at a time when my father was working away from home," said Green who also heads a Youth Leadership Program for children who live near the Marine Barracks in Southeast. "It's that way with some of these kids. No one pays attention to some of their needs. So I feel if we can grab 50 of these kids and may be save one then we're doing something and it's worth it."

Charles Butler, traffic safety manager for the AAA in the District, said the AAA conducts summer camps to train the officers of school safety patrols.He said President Carter, Prince George's County Executive Lawrence Hogan and former District police chief Maurice Cullinane all are former members of safety patrols.

Butler said the safety program is now in 40 foreign countries, with 300,000 children outside of the United States taking part. In this country, where the program started in 1922, more than a million youngsters take part. Over 20 million Americans have been safety patrol guards since the program began.

The highlight of yesterday's parade came at the end when the winning band, the Cardozo Marching Band, danced as they played coming up the avenue.

"It was like a tidal were coming at us," said Glen Lashley of the AAA. "The crowd wanted to get out there and join in the fun with them. The police had all they could do to hold them back."

Cardozo won first prize in the band category, with second place going to Hazleton High School band from Hazleton, Pa.; the best Junior High Band was Bayside Junior High from Virginia Beach; the best drum and bugle corps was the Baltimore Westsiders; the best float was done by Van Ness Elementary in the District and drill team honors were won by Ballou High School in the District.

With approximately 10,000 participants in yesterday's parade, including school safety patrol groups from California, Indiana and North Carolina, parade officials said the parade has made a comeback since 1968 when riots caused its cancellation.

For five years afterwards the AAA did not sponsor a Constitution Avenue parade. Each police district held small safety patrol parades. In 1974 the Constitution Avenue Parade was reborn and this year drew the largest number of participants including sizeable groups from the suburbs and the largest audience ever. Next year the AAA plans to resume the parade as a national event. CAPTION: Picture 1, Safety patrol members from Maruy Elecmentary School executed snappy white-gloved salutes as they passed the reviewing stand at yesterday's parade.

Picture 2, Three-year-old Micheal Litsas of Alexandria made sure of her parade position.

Photos by John DcDonnell-The Washington Post