Some described it as the best two weeks of their lives. Others said they were so inspired by the experience they felt ready to go out and run the world -- or at least run the District better than it is now being run.

One youth said he was so changed by the experience he was sure his street buddies would say he is a totally different person now than when they last saw him two weeks ago. He said he's now serious about life and wants to stay out of trouble.

By any description, the Mayor's Youth leadership Institute is a positive experience.

The institute, started las year, is designed to select those young people in the District who show the greatest potential for leadership, then make them more aware of their talents and of the problems in their environment and finally return them to their communities to organize and lead others.

About 2,000 students from the District's public and private junior and senior high schools applied this year for admission to the program. Only 400 were selected, 200 for each session.

The institute consists of two two-week residential leadership training sessions at Howard University. The first session this summer ended last Friday. The second began Sunday.

Each institute participant gets a summer job through the District Summer Jobs Program.

The training sessions prepare youths to be effective leaders in their communities by engaging them in intensive group encounters and "games." These activities are designed to foster self-awareness and group solidarity and to improve problem-solving skills.

"We get them to dream and to have the courage to go out and actualize their dreams," said Arilla Bowman, a group instructor.

Bowman and other leadership trainers who supervise the youths are employed by the National Center for Economic and Community Development, a consulting firm under contract to the institute through the mayor's office.

Money from the mayor's office and the Department of Employment Services pays for the institute, which costs about $224,000 a year to operate.

During the two-week sessions, the youths live in a Howard University dormitory under an 11 p.m. curfew.

Darrell Sabbs, director of the institute, says discipline is strict. "We have to be very rigid on some things -- no alcohol, no drugs, no violence or threats of violence. If anybody breaks the rules, (there are) no negotiations, just goodbye."

Most students were chosen because they could communicate well, were aware of the problems in their communities and were recommended by teachers.

Others, Sabbs said, were selected because they were special hardship cases -- chronically delinquent kids or those on probation for minor crimes -- who might be helped by the program.

Sabbs said he tried to bring together students from various backgrounds and races, including blacks, whites, Hispanics, and deaf youth. "We've got kids from the Gold Coast to Barry Farms involved in this program." Sabbs added, "I made sure that we had at least 100 kids from public housing."

During the training sessions, the students sit at round tables, each table constituting a team. They are encouraged to be honest and open with each other as they participate in what are called "power games."

In one game, money is doled out and the person who gets the most determines the rules by which the others must act.

After the game, students analyze their motives during the game and discuss the problems of those who had les power.

By playing the games and participating in the program's other activities, "We learned a lot about being prepared, and about how a group can really unite and do something," said Terrence Hill, 17, of Northwest D.C. r

"The significance of the games is that the youths must think and work as a team," said 15-year-old Vanessa Marshall.

Many youths, including Marshall, try to stay involved after they complete the summer program. They screen trainees for upcoming programs and act as assistant trainers during the summer sessions.

After completing the two-week training sessions, students may participate in other activities during the next year. Among the activities are internships in District government that allow young people to learn about government firsthand and make suggestions about how the city should be managed.

For instance, the youths in the institute elect. some of their group as mayor and council members. These students later will get to know and work closely with actual city officials.

The Student mayor works in Mayor Marion Barry's office for a year. Marshall, one of last year's mayors, also worked with the Neighborhood Planning Commission and other community groups. In addition, she helped recruit and interview this year's institute participants.

Kemry Hughes, 18, of Southeast D.C., was elected mayor in this summer's first session. Hughes, who also was a battalion commander in Spingarn High School's ROTC program this year, said, "The institute trained me to use discipline and tactfulness when trying to get people to do things.

"I care about this city and the fair treatment of all people," said Hughes, who hopes to be the real mayor of Washington one day.

Explaining the philosphy of the institute, Sabbs said, "First we give them confidence about themselves -- we make them feel competent. A lot of kids come in here bashful, but when they leave, they're aggressive leaders -- and that's what this city needs."