A PERUSAL of local college and university catalogues shows that there are an admirable number of academic programs and opportunities available to the city's most gifted students. D.C. public school officials say that George Washington University, for example, reserves 36 scholarships a year for some of the city's brightest high school graduates. Through a program called "HI/SCIP," talented D.C. students can take classes -- often for post-secondary level credits -- at 10 local colleges and universities.

But throughout the city there are young people who haven't understood the message implicit in these programs: that a good education is the best way to reach a dream. The D.C. schools have opened a number of public/private partnerships with various firms designed to help. Pepco, to cite one of them, is involved in a pre-engineering program. Students are allowed to visit and learn from current employees. But these partnerships have involved only 3 percent of the city's high school students. More participation is needed to expand existing programs and to start ventures involving other careers.

The "adoption" of schools has become a valuable program. Churches, federal and District government agencies and others (including this newspaper) have regularly sent their members or employees into various schools as tutors and mentors. At Amidon Elementary in Southwest, for example, federal education officials expanded the school library and tutored children in reading and math. Several churches in Southeast Washington have raised funds for book club memberships and cultural field trips. About 60 schools have been "adopted." That leaves 120 schools in the city that don't have such a relationship, and many of them need one badly.

Society is improved by those who work hard, earn an honest living and pay taxes. The schools of this city are the surest way to direct young people onto that path, but they need the help of the rest of the community to do it -- and they need it now.