When Rita and Renita need help with their English courses, they ask their sister Regina for help. When Regina needs help with math, she asks Rita and Renita to help her. The three 15-year-olds also team up on other subjects and quiz each other religiously on test questions. The Spencer sisters, who are also close friends, encourage one another and review academic material repeatedly until they master all their school assignments.

Their formula for tackling tough homework assignments has long earned them high grades and it also paid off in an unusual way last week when the triplets won top honors in the 175-member graduating class of Johnson Junior High School in Southeast Washington.

Regina, whose grade point average is 3.9 out of a possible 4.0, was the valedictorian; Renita, with 3.8, tied with Tonya Mack for salutatorian, and Rita, with 3.3, was an honor graduate at Johnson, located at Bruce Place and Robinson Place SE in Anacostia.

"Maybe there is a lesson to be learned in their team approach," said school counselor Jewyll Wilson. "Although a lot of students learn better when they study alone, working together apparently works well for the Spencer sisters and it could work well for other students, too."

At the school's commencement exercises last Friday, the Spencer triplets were the center of attention as people praised them for rising to the top of their class together.

Mayor Marion Barry did not attend the commencement, but he sent Regina and Renita scholastic achievement medallions and invited all three sisters to a reception scheduled to be held tomorrow in honor of the top students in the city, a spokesman for the mayor said. Their parents will be commended, he said. Barry also sent a medallion to Tonya Mack.

"We studied hard to make it where we are today," said Rita, who was the first triplet born. Though they didn't sit next to each other in classes, they always met at home immediately after school to "get our school work out of the way first," she said.

Regina, born second, said, "We wanted to stick together. We didn't want to fall apart and have one of us at the top and the other somewhere else. So, we always helped each other . . . . It's been fun having two sisters in the same grade and taking the same classes."

The sisters, who want to study computer science in college, plan to attend Ballou High School, where there is an accelerated math-science program, next year. They hope to win top honors when they graduate from Ballou in three years.

"We want to stay together in everything we do," Renita said.

The triplets said that living together, attending school and studying together have made them a close-knit threesome. Whereas others might tire of being around their siblings all of the time, the Spencers revel in it. They are family, friends and schoolmates, and "we love each other," they said.

"Our parents told us to stick together," Rita said. "When we had tests to study for, we quizzed each other until we all got it down right. We checked each other's homework and we talked about our courses," she said. "Our parents kept us in line. They always told us to go to school and work hard."

The identical triplets often dress alike, making it difficult for others to tell them apart. They usually call each other by their knicknames, "Jean" (Regina), "Mo" (Renita) and "Ree Ree" (Rita). All are witty, outgoing and are quick to smile.

Although all parents are proud to see their children graduate, the triplets' parents, George and Susie Spencer, were three times as proud after their daughters walked away with the school's coveted academic awards.

"The girls were trained early in life that school is the second most important place in the world -- church is number one," said Susie Spencer, a domestic worker. George Spencer is a construction worker.

The triplets have similar honors and awards but they like each other for other reasons.

""I love them just for being my sisters," Regina said. "They don't have to do anything special."