Theresa "Tiza" Watkins, a beautician, could have easily stayed in her salon on Capitol Hill, styling hair and listening to constant talk about the sad state of today's youths.

Watkins earns a good living, having studied psychology and public relations in college as well as hair weaving and cosmetology at various beauty schools.

One day last year, Dorothy Egins, a client and resource teacher at Taft Junior High School in Northeast Washington, remarked that the problems of many youths appear to stem from low self-esteem. For Watkins, who specializes in improving self-image, that was a challenge she could not refuse. The time for lying back in the comfort of her successful business was over.

A few weeks ago, I met Tiza Watkins in action at Taft, where she was helping students wind up a self-esteem program with a fabulous fashion show.

Instructions remained on a classroom blackboard while youngsters prepared for the show, applying makeup and adjusting their new clothes. They had learned yoga, how to breathe properly, how to sit and stand with good posture, how to correctly pronounce difficult words and a variety of other pointers on conducting themselves like self-respecting boys and girls.

Watkins's experience as a beautician had come in handy in more ways than showing the youngsters how to improve their looks. She was able to give the students what many of them had long yearned for: patience and a receptive ear.

Her plans had been modest. After receiving permission from school officials to hold a two-hour counseling session with students once a week, Watkins had printed fliers inviting students to produce a fashion show.

The results were impressive. About 35 students answered the call -- including some of the toughest boys and girls in the school. The show needed a director, producer, choreographer, stage manager, account executive, makeup artists, models and ticket salespeople.

But before the students could begin their jobs, they needed to know how to behave. Before long, students were running their own production company with discipline and creativity. Watkins had "volunteered" more than $9,000 of her time -- but it was obvious that money could not buy what she had received in return.

She had seen, as few do in such a short time, youths literally transformed from insecure and at times fearful kids into reasonably happy and self-assured youngsters.

The time that Watkins had taken to guide them, talk to them about sex education and the importance of respecting one another, paid off handsomely as perpetual frowns turned to smiles.

Some students appeared to grow an inch or two simply because they now stand with their shoulders straight and chin held high. Some of the students confessed that this had been the first time in memory that they actually trusted an adult.

The fashion extravaganza itself had a professional quality, with young models playing their roles to the enthusiastic applause of classmates, parents and teachers who filled the audience.

Music was provided by Conan, a popular disc jockey at radio station WOL (1450 AM), and the event was hosted by WOL news director Andrea Springer, herself a fine role model.

The affair was filmed by the Broadcast Factory, a video production company operated by youths in Northeast Washington.

Not all of the rewards of a school year well spent were immediately apparent. For example, for the girls to wear the dresses that they had selected for the fashion show, they could not get pregnant. When time came to slip into the silken wedding gowns, sportswear and professional attire that they had selected in October, all of the youngsters had firm, flat tummies.

At a school that has had its share of difficulty preventing teenage pregnancy -- as have many other junior high schools in the area -- this was a wonderful accomplishment.

Also in the spotlight were boys whom D.C. police were known to be keeping an eye on. They were at the age where the tug of the street life was becoming increasingly irresistible. For many, fending for oneself on the streets was preferable to the struggles of keeping up in class.

Police were said to be among the most surprised that not one of the boys in the fashion show was arrested during the year.

And behind it all was Tiza Watkins, just more proof -- if any was needed -- that one person can make a difference.