"Can you catch AIDS in a swimming pool?" asked one student at a recent summer school session at Roosevelt High School in Northwest Washington. "What about if you get too close to someone who's sweating all over?" chimed in another. "If anybody ever gives me AIDS, I'd become an 18-year-old {prostitute} and infect everybody," came a bitter voice.

It was a job for the AIDS Team -- a group of eight young people who are college juniors, seniors and recent graduates selected this summer by the D.C. Commission of Public Health to spread the word to area teens about acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

The AIDS Team is a pilot project that evolved from the commission's college summer internship program. What started out as a typical summer job for Jan Kelley, Fred Sanford, Alton Williams, Michelle Jones, Lorie Rising, Adrian Long, Carl Westmoreland and Kevin Nahigian has turned into an educational caravan en route from one community to the next spreading the word on safe sex.

"It's our way of saying that we care about youth," said Yvonne Lanier, a public health administrator. "It also allows us to draw from a wealth of young talent available in the District."

With frank discussion and a "down-to-earth" approach, the interns explain to teen-agers what the disease is, the symptoms of AIDS and how it is transmitted, and emphasize the importance of condoms for those who are sexually active. According to Kelley, a recent Howard University graduate who majored in microbiology, "the older they {teens} are, the more curious they are because they know that they are sexually active."

A regular part of the team's presentation is a film featuring local AIDS patients telling their personal stories. Skits and plays performed by the D.C. Social Services Commission's Everyday Theatre are sometimes used during AIDS Team presentations. According to Jones, a second-year medical student at Georgetown University, the dramatizations are very touching. "They {Everyday Theatre} perform a powerful little piece called 'Til Death Us Do Part.' It really goes over well with the kids," she said.

The peer-counseling approach makes it "easier for teens to talk," said Sanford, a senior majoring in recreational therapy at the University of the District of Columbia. "We don't walk in in three-piece suits lecturing."

At Roosevelt, team members talked with students, many of whom had their first opportunity to unload some of their fears about the disease.

After the session, 15-year-old Renee Jackson, a student at Alice Deal Junior High, confessed, "I learned some things about AIDS and sex that I didn't know."

Renee Robinson, 15, added, "Before this, I didn't want to be around people with AIDS because I didn't know how you could catch it."

Gregory Leake, 16, who attended an AIDS Team session at the Northeast Kenilworth Courts community branch of Operating Services Assisting Youth, said he was surprised that so many teens showed up for the talk. "So many teens don't take AIDS seriously," he said.

"They'll take the advice when it happens to someone in their family. Teens feel, 'That's them, it's not going to happen to us,' " said Lillian Wright, 23, a resident of Kenilworth Courts.

According to the Public Health Commission's Jean Tapscott, one of the staff supervisors for the AIDS Team, reports show that since 1981, eight children younger than 13 in the District have been diagnosed as having AIDS; four in this age group have died. During the same period, one case of AIDS has been diagnosed among 13- to 19-year-olds, she said.

AIDS educator Deborah Michelman prepared the team of eight for presentations at schools and youth centers throughout the city. "I went over basic information with them, observed them in sessions and gave them feedback." Mock presentations, critiques and weekly wrap-up sessions keep members abreast of their topic.

In addition, AIDS Team members have to do "a lot of reading," Sanford said. Visits to the National AIDS Network, a D.C.-based clearinghouse on AIDS information, and to the Whitman-Walker Clinic, and seminars at the Health Information Resources Organization in Rockville were part of the preparation.

When the team members are not in the field, much of their time is spent at the 1875 Connecticut Ave. NW office, where, according to Jones, the phones ring like "a hot line." The summer heat wave has generated an onslaught of calls from anxious swimmers who express fears of contracting AIDS from pool water. Team members explain that it is unlikely that the disease can be contracted from water in a public pool because of the high concentration of chlorine used.

Tapscott said selection of AIDS Team members was based on agency needs and the interns' educational background and experience. They earn between $6.50 and $7.27 per hour.

"Some of us had an opportunity to talk with AIDS patients at George Washington University Hospital," Westmoreland said. "One of the patients had reached a state of dementia. It's an experience we'll never forget."