The day was hot and soggy but the girls were cool, poised and self-assured.

Sixty students -- eighth graders through high school seniors -- celebrated completion Saturday of an after-school program to help black women choose careers early and work toward them.

The program, sponsored by the Montgomery County Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, was funded by a grant from the U.S. Office of Education.

Too often, young blacks in a white society miss opportunities for leadership, said Vivian B. Bland, who headed the program's advisory committee.

"You may plan for a dance or a play but (because you are a minority) your wishes may not be honored. It doesn't mean the minority view is not important," Bland said.

If blacks lack opportunities for leadership experience, young black women are in "double jeopardy," she said.

To compensate, the local NCNW conceived the career exploration program. For two hours after school twice a week, students heard speakers, talked to prominent black career women, visited work sites and developed workbooks on a chosen career. Tutors also helped students with their homework, and gave special help in English and mathematics.

The students planned special activities such as fashion shows and dances. Parents were also included in rap sessions, trips and seminars.

At the celebration banquet at Montgomery College, the girls talked enthusiastically about their experience.

Dianne Morgan, 15, of Silver Spring, said she thought the program was "a challenge" because it "made you more sure if what you decided on doing was what you really wanted to do." A ninth grader at Argyle Junior High School, said she wants a career fashion design but didn't realize how much it involved.

Lucretia Lewis, 16, of Rockville who attends Richard Montgomery High Schoool, said after meeting black women "really high in government . . . (that) I never knew there were so many of them." The program helped Lewis overcome her fear of talking in front of a lot of people, she said. Confidently she took the podium before more than 100 girls and their parents to introduce the banquet's mistress of ceremonies, Delores Handy, anchorwoman for WTTG-TV news.

Ruby Rubens, a program leader for NCNW, said students are recruited for the program by notifying school officials, churches and community groups and asking for referrals of girls who would most benefit.

After speeches by Handy and WRC-TV anchorman Jim Vance, the girls received special awards for attendance, career follow-up, leadership, notebooks, most improvement and congeniality.

Tall and impeccably dressed Angela Bates, 15, of Silver Spring, said she wants to be a model or an accountant. The Argyle Junior High student said the program helped her learn "I shouldn't be sorry because I'm black or anything."