Willie Monroe, 19, usually "sleeps a lot" the day after Christmas. But yesterday the Spingarn High School-Phelps Career Center student spent several hours at the Inter-High variety retail store.

Unlike the thousands of post-Christmas shoppers who crammed stores returning gifts or looking for bargains, Monroe was working. And, for him, working is the same as going to school because the variety store is operated by the D.C. school system as part of its vocational education curriculum.

Monroe and about 40 other vocational education students work at the store and are graded by D.C. teachers who supervise them. They receive no pay, except for an occasional tip. The store, which opened two weeks ago, sells floral arrangements and greeting cards and provides manicures. It is a nonprofit enterprise and the money it generates is used to buy inventory, school officials said.

"I'm here because I want to work, I want to learn and I want to get on top of things," Monroe said. "I love floral design."

Located at 2339 18th Street NW, the store operates out of a converted town house near other small shops and restaurants in the culturally mixed Adams-Morgan community. Business has been building slowly but surely, said store manager and teacher Phillip Allred.

When school is in session, students spend part of the day at their high schools and the other part at career centers. Under this "shared time" program, they study classroom subjects for their high school diplomas and, at the centers, learn the fundamentals of trades ranging from cosmetology and catering to accounting and landscaping.

At Inter-High Connection, students study and put into practice the techniques of floral design and manicuring. Floral design is the chief industry at the store, and classes are held there.

"I like working with customers and I love working with flowers," said Alberta Davis, 17, a student at Roosevelt High School and at Phelps. "By coming here, I get to know how to run my own business, as well as how to work for a flower shop."

Working at the store gives students "an overview of production and sales," said Charles Turner, a career placement specialist for the D.C. schools, adding, "It's much better than the sterile environment of a regular classroom."

"Here they can learn social skills necessary in dealing with the public," which gives any student interested in business "a good foundation," he said. And, he pointed out, "for kids who come from families that don't have a history of entrepreneurship, this experience is crucial."

Allred said that he is trying to teach his students the things that go beyond working in a store or learning a trade.

"My personal goal is to have each student see life as an opportunity and to recognize those things around them as opportunities . . .to make money," Allred said. "You don't have to have tunnel vision and think that you always have to work for someone else. Money is out there just to pick up."

The school system has operated variety stores in several other locations with only limited success, but has reason to believe that this store will succeed, Allred said.

The schools pay $1,350 a month to lease the location and, so far, the store has sold about $1,500 in goods and services, he said.