Dressed in a ski parka, her cheeks rosy from the brisk February wind, 10 year-old Dana Lee last week solemnly approached a bare brown tree in front of the Devonshire Elementary School in Falls Church and tied a bright yellow ribbon around the trunk.

The ribbon was for her father, Gary Lee, senior general services officer for the State Department who was at the American Embassy in Tehran when it was overrun by militants in November.

Lee was assigned to Iran in the spring. It was the first overseas assignment he had been given where his wife and daughter were not permitted to accompany him. Late last summer, Lee was reunited with his family for several weeks before returning to Tehran. His wife and daughter have not seen him since they said goodbye on Sept. 19.

Since his capture, Lee's family has received just one letter. Last week while his family waited anxiously in Falls Church, Gary Lee spent his 37th birthday as a hostage in Iran.

His wife, Pat Lee, says in spite of everything that has happened the past three months, she is hopeful the crisis is nearly over.

"I've been feeling good -- like this would be the month they'd be released," she said.

Mrs. Lee was at Devonshire School last week to observe the yellow ribbon ceremony.

During the past several months yellow ribbons have been displayed around the country -- a symbol of hope that the hostages would soon be released. The idea apparently came from a popular song about a returning prisoner who asked his sweetheart to "tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree . . . if you still want me."

Lee says she and Dana pioneered the yellow ribbon campaign in their neighborhood: "The morning after I tied a ribbon around our tree every house on the street had done the same thing."

At the Devonshire School, Dana was followed by 50 sixth graders, who eagerly decorated the tree with ribbons, then stepped back to admire the bright yellow splotch in front of the red brick school.

Dressed in colorful snowsuits and sweatshirts, the children from 5 to 12 years of age, formed a horseshoe around the tree. They held up handmade signs asking for release of the hostages, read original poetry and jockeyed for positions in front of television cameras.

Craning her neck to find Diana in the mob of students, Mrs. Lee whispered to an observer how proud she was of Dana and how her daughter's optimism had helped her.

"Dana has been very positive," Mrs. Lee said. "She's held me together sometimes. When the whole thing happened, all I could do was stand at my sink and cry -- I couldn't do anything without breaking down.

"Finally, Dana said to me 'Momma, we know Dad's gonna be all right.'"

Dana, who has not missed a day of school since the embassy was seized, said the other children in her sixth grade class have not trated her differently since her father was captured.

"They ask me how I'm making out a lot," she said shyly as the students began returning to their classrooms. "I think it's good to know they care."

As Dana and Pat Lee turned to leave the schoolyard, a bystander said she hoped Gary Lee would be home soon: "We hope so, too," said Mrs. Lee. "We know so," Dana said.