Nearly half of the 13,500 youngsters hired this year to work in the D.C. Summer Youth Employment program will not hold traditional jobs at all. Instead, they will get paid for spending 20 to 30 hours a week in classroom and enrichment programs.

Classes include instruction in science, public speaking and preparation for college entrance exams.

Through the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institutioon, a select group of 45 junior high school students will be paid to take a seven-week program of field trips and classes in dance, theater, music and painting.

The government's tab: about $23,000, not counting daily transportation provided by the Recreation Department.

At the Southeast Neighborhood House, about 10 students are attending seminars on starting a business, later to be paired with mentors in specific careers fields. Cost to the city: $5,500 to $7,000.

Another 200 teenagers are taking classes at the Washington Urban League in reading, math, AIDS prevention and sex education as well as "personal growth" at a cost to the city of nearly $150,000. And at least one job program offers repeats of two high school classes that parents say didn't meet standards during the regular school year.

"What we have tried to do is offer a variety of experiences to inspire young people and prepare them for the future," said Daryl Hardy, the city's jobs program coordinator.

Other programs combine work and study.

Several thousand youngsters, for example, receive classroom instruction in a variety of subjects, then are trained to work as tutors in elementary school summer classes offered by the D.C. Public Schools.

At Georgetown University Hospital, a small group of students are spending three days a week assisting the medical staff and two days learning science and math. At Sousa Junior High, others are studying video technology, then to produce some television programs.

Organizers argue that because all participants must show up on time and punch a clock, even the most academic of programs teaches "work-related skills."

"One has to embrace the idea, the philosophy that employment programs don't have to be swinging a broom," Hardy said.

Although fiscal conservatives and some taxpayers may balk at paying children to seek "enrichment," education experts say the breadth of need in the city warrants the expenditure.

"We already have a massively high dropout rate," said Beverly Jackson, an analyst for the National Black Childhood Development Institute. "Anything to keep kids in school and help them understand the importance of working and learning is good."

Jackson said several other cities, including Greensboro, N.C., have developed similar programs using federal funds available through the Jobs Training Partnership Act. The District also uses those funds to pay its young employees whose family income falls below the poverty line.

"There's a growing feeling that young people in many cases don't have the basic {academic} skills," Hardy said. "The idea is to provide employment and training. The new trend is enrichment."

Delabian Rice-Thurston, executive director of Parents United, said paying teenagers to spend their summer in learning sessions is an economic necessity.

"If your parents don't provide you with the money, and we have a whole city full of parents who can't afford to give their kids extra money, then I think it's a reasonable decision for a government to make," she said.

But many agencies offering the classes and enrichment programs have a different goal. As much as Mayor Marion Barry saw its potential to attract votes, many agencies see the program as a way to increase their visibility and popularity among urban residents.

The Kennedy Center and Smithsonian Institution, for example, looked at the demographics of the jobs program last year and saw a clear opportunity to reach out to more of the city's blacks, according to education coordinator Patti Liang.

"The goal is basically to get D.C. kids {and their families} interested in the arts," she said. "It's all here in their backyards and they don't go. Even if it's free, they don't go."

Still others cite the city's drug and crime problems as justification for being part of a government program that pays teenagers just to keep them occupied.

"It's better that they be off the streets with a small stipend than on the streets with nothing to do," Rice-Thurston said.