LaTonya Nimmons dropped out of high school in her senior year. Two years later, she returned to school and began working as a cashier at a fast-food restaurant to support her son. After several months, she quit her job, figuring it was beneath her.

This summer, Nimmons, 23, graduated as part of the Class of '87 and began working in one of Mayor Marion Barry's newest employment training programs in hopes of getting a better job.

Through Project Success, a program that guarantees to every District high school graduate a job or job training, participants learn resume writing, job search skills and interview techniques, according to Larry Brown, public relations director of the Department of Employment Services.

Nimmons and 400 other 1987 District graduates who are participating in the program are learning how to get a job and how to make the most of it, Brown said. "Everybody can't be a professional, but everybody can become a productive citizen," he said.

High school seniors in the District's public and private schools who have at least a C average and are not planning to pursue higher education or enlist in the military next fall can register for the program in March.

The program began with a preliminary study of the District's graduating seniors to determine whether the need existed for a job placement service. Registration for the program began in March. In June, participants began working in the mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program as part of Project Success.

When the summer employment program ended in late August, the participants began taking job training classes. For five weeks, the participants reported to classrooms on the Van Ness campus of the University of the District of Columbia on time and on payroll. "It's just like reporting to an eight-hour job," Brown said.

But instead of being paid to work, they were being paid to learn. The students who arrived late were docked pay.

Project Success, a concept that grew out of the Summer Youth Em-ployment Program, is an effort of the District government, D.C. public schools, the Archdiocese of Washington and local businesses. "We help them get the job, but it is up to them to keep it," Brown said.

Some of the program participants plan to obtain additional education or training, but chose to enter the job market first. Carlton Lacy, for instance, said he registered for the program because he was undecided about what kind of work he wanted to do. He said that in the job training classes, he was exposed to jobs and career fields that were new to him.

In the training classes, Lacy and his classmates also learned to take an interest in potential employers' stock value and employe benefits programs.

Nimmons said she learned that fast-food operations such as McDonald's have many job opportunities. "You might have to start out flipping hamburgers . . . but you can work your way up," she said.

During field trips, in which the participants toured business establishments, Lacy learned "how important a positive working attitude is." He said that he found success in a job depends on the individual. "You have to have self-motivation and {high} esteem."

Business officials visited the classes, giving lectures and conducting preliminary interviews for clerical, accounting, computer programming, law enforcement and food service jobs.

Lacy and many of his classmates said the program affords the Class of '87 a brighter start than previous graduates had. Many of them said earlier attempts to find a job were in vain because employers were looking for experience. But they said they believe Project Success will get them started.

"This {program} is giving me a start on the road to success," said Nimmons, who is interviewing for clerical positions at area hospitals. Nimmons, who graduated at the top of her class at Spingarn Stay, an evening education program that offers makeup classes, said the program helped give her focus.

"Now I realize how important it is to do good in school," she said. "I call my little sisters and make sure they get up and go to school."

Recruiters from more than 25 government and private organizations began hiring the graduates the first of this month. Barry is expected to announce today the success rate of the program in helping the participants find jobs.