Joseph Clark, 7, will go back to school this fall with improved reading and writing skills as well as a newfound close friendship with a teen-ager who helped make it possible.

Joseph is one of 36 elementary school students who spent eight weeks this summer in a program called Project Kindle. It gave the children, first- through third-graders, tutoring in basic academic skills, and provided the 11 teens trained to tutor them the chance to earn $3.35 an hour for what they said was a rewarding, enjoyable task.

Joseph's tutor and new friend is John Horning, 16. "I like helping the kids learn and achieve their goals," said Horning. The affection is mutual. "I like my tutor," Clark said. "He is nice and he shows me a lot of new things. Sometimes he rides me home on his bike and we go swimming . . . . My tutor is my friend too."

Project Kindle, its name an acronym for knowledge, independence, nurturing, development, leadership and example, was sponsored and developed by Neighbors Inc., a Northwest civic association, in cooperation with the District public school system and the Kingsbury Center, a 45-year-old District private school for children with learning disabilities and other special education needs.

"It gave teens the opportunity to know more about the goals of Neighbors Inc. and meet one another in a situation where they are learning and working together," said Rita Marshall, in charge of the project.

The program's coordinator, Jane Blong, said she believes community involvement in youth education is important. "I think this extra support is going to have to come from community organizations. I don't think schools will take the initiative with something like this. They have enough to do."

One of the benefits of such tutoring, Blong said, is that the children seem more relaxed and less threatened because the tutors are not as strict with them as teachers usually are in a normal class setting.

Most of the tutors said the experience was rewarding. "I've learned various techniques of tutoring. My spelling has improved. I've started noticing silent E's in my pronunciation more," said tutor Andre Jones, 15.

Another tutor, Beverly Jones, 16, said she "learned to have more patience with kids. This program has also taught me how to develop a routine with my work, and I think that will help me when I go back to school."

Besides the educational benefits, most of the teen-agers said the best aspect of the program was working with the children.

Connie Spinner, director of the volunteer services and training branch of District schools, gave her support and the technical assistance of her office to the project.

"I firmly believe in the concept," Spinner said. "It offered teens the opportunity to become involved with the concept of service and giving something back to the community . . . . It is a program I hope more neighborhood groups will consider replicating."

The tutoring sessions, which ended Friday, were held at Brightwood, Powell and Whittier elementary schools, all in Northwest. Four adults were paid $500 each to supervise the program.

Though seeking funds for the program was "a bit frustrating at times," Marshall said, she and other Neighbors Inc. members raised $16,700 in private contributions, including grants from several foundations.

Project Kindle participants and contributors are scheduled to be recognized in a closing ceremony tonight at Takoma Park Elementary School.

"I won't cry, but I'll be sad" to have it end, Joseph Clark said.