From her post in the District's Woodbridge Library, Sigrid Washington has seen at first hand some of the difficulties encountered by D.C. students who can't cope with their school assignments. That's why, the librarian says, she decided to volunteer to tutor students in the public schools who are having trouble learning to read and write.

Washington was one of 943 citizens who attended an orientation session at Dunbar High School last weekend for Operation Rescue, a program that is recruiting volunteers to help first to third graders who cannot meet newly required standards in reading and math.

Washington will tutor at a school nearby the library, Langdon Elementary at 20th Street and Franklin Avenue NE. Like the other volunteers, her reasons for answering the call to spend four hours a week helping in the schools was a highly personal one.

"I usually see the results of what's happened to these youngsters over the years they've been in school," said Washington, who often meets teenagers struggling through reading material at the Northeast library. "I think you have to make an impact while they are young."

Dr. Doris Brummel, who teaches in the Department of Early Childhood Education at the University of the District of Columbia, said she was attracted to Operation Rescue because the volunteers have been asked to spend one of the four hours each week working with parents, to help them understand the District's plan for teaching reading and math and its new, stiffer standards for promotion.

"It's an effort to bring the home, school and community together. It's a partnership and I think it will work," said Brummel, who teaches a course at UDC on the "interaction" between the home, school and community. She will be a volunteer at Cleveland Elementary at 8th and T streets NW.

For Gertrude Brummitt, it was enough that she has three youngsters in the public schools -- in kindergarten, second and fourth grades at Malcolm X Elementary School in Anacostia -- to make her want to volunteer.

Adorned with a blue and white button reading, "Operation Rescue -- We Serve," Brummitt said she already is familiar with Malcolm X, having volunteered in the Title I supplemental reading and math program.

Many of the Operation Rescue volunteers are retired teachers, who taught reading and math.Two school board members, vice president Bettie G. Benjamin (Ward 5) and Carol Schwartz (Ward 3) also have volunteered.

But for some of the others, Operation Rescue will provide their first inside contact with the public schools.

Volunteer Benson Penick's only previous contact with the D.C. schools was as a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. That was in the early '70s when the university stopped recruiting students from the District schools because of their poor skills. It was then, Penick said, he got the impression that District schools were "the pits."

Now, as a tutor at Turner Elementary on Stanton Road SE, he says he's prepared to personally try to change that opinion.

"Clearly the years to intervene and help these kids are the early years," said Penick, who now works as a consultant.

The volunteers will be helping 3,200 children in 40 target schools where students have had the most problems. These are youngsters who failed to master the newly required level of skills in reading and math last semester. The volunteers will work with them from this week until next May with the goal of helping to bring these students up to grade level.

A total of 1,197 volunteers were recruited, but only 607 will be working in the 40 target schools. The others will work in other elementary schools or in Operation Outreach, a tutoring program for students in grades 4-12.