For most students summer is a time for waking up late, bumming around with friends, swimming or just relaxing at home in front of a television set. In short, it's a time for pure fun and not much learning.

But for about 250 elementary pupils and junior high school students in the city's Gifted/Talented Summer Experience, summer has become a learning experience that happens to be fun, too.

"It's a lot better than regular school," said Milton Brown Mirch, 10, a gregarious fifth grader at Beers Elementary School in Southeast. "It's fun and you get to meet a lot of new people."

Milton was among 16 pupils studying science exploration in the four-week program, which concluded summer classes yesterday.

The program for the gifted and talented offers courses -- air and space, critical thinking, newspaper and television production, Spanish culture, gourmet cooking and the zoo experience -- that are not usually available to students during the regular academic year.

Under the four-year-old program, which is free, second- through ninth-grade District students who have been identified as gifted or talented are invited to enroll in courses, which try to get students involved in subjects through experience.

Take, for example, the zoo experience class.

Every weekday, except Mondays and Fridays, which were days set aside for discussion, pupils in the class observed animals and their behavior at the National Zoo.

Yesterday, the last day of the course, the pupils dressed up as particular animals and mimicked their behavior in front of proud parents and friends who had gathered at the University of District of Columbia campus.

For the bright, eager and sometimes restless pupils, it was time to show off their stuff.

Pupils in Ted Mavritte's science exploration class showed how to cook a hot dog with a solar oven made of aluminum foil and cardboard.

Yvette Ross, a 12-year-old seventh grader from Jefferson Junior High School, explained how to harness solar energy for practical purposes.

But she worried about the hot dog and seemed concerned that the oven may have worked too well.

"It's kind of roasted," Ross said.

Students in the television production class, who were able to take tours of local television stations, staged a mock "live" television interview that featured a cameraman, a gaffer, a producer, a host and the show's guests.

The day also included readings from an anthology of poems, short stories, and journals by pupils in the creative writing course, a rap song written by students studying living in the inner city and the performance of "God Bless America" -- using sign language students had learned in a class on how to communicate without words.

"The whole program is fantastic," said Joyce Plummer, who had two sons, two nieces and a nephew involved in the program.

"This has been a nice experience for all of them."

One of her sons, Tarik Plummer, wrote for The G/T Express, an eight-page newspaper produced by the newspaper production class.

"It's been fun because you don't have to work as hard, but you stay informed," said Plummer, who attends St. John's College High School in Northwest Washington.

The 250-circulation publication dealt with serious contemporary issues such as AIDS, drugs and immigration revision.

In one editorial, the staff noted that scandals seem to repeat themselves.

The student writers equated the case of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker with that of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.

Phyllis D. Hines, the director of the program, said the goal was to have students not only involved with the subjects but also to see the relationship between the subject and the community.

"We tell teachers not to have children sit on desks all day," Hines said. "Summer should be fun but it also should be a time of learning."

Working with gifted and talented students is "a challenge," said Mavritte, who taught science courses for 17 years before becoming one of the coordinators of the program.

"You have to be on your toes. They ask a lot of questions, and sometimes they're more knowledgeable than yourself," he said.