THERE HAS long been a need in this city for local universities and professionals to reach down into the public schools to spur greater involvement in math and science. It's the type of effort the school system cannot afford on its own. Now, thanks to local volunteers, Howard University, the University of the District of Columbia and a $3.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation, hundreds of D.C. students will enjoy programs ranging from campus-based course work to mentors and tutorial help.

About 80 of the city's best math and science teachers will be trained, with Howard's help, in new teaching methods. The National Technical Association -- a group of minority scientists, architects, engineers and mathematicians -- will hold workshops for these instructors and provide students with information on careers in math, science and engineering. High school students will be matched with professional mentors in those fields. There will be a summertime pre-college research program for another 40 students, and 200 junior high students will be offered a Saturday math and science academy and summer enrichment on the UDC campus. The Washington Urban League will offer instructional and tutorial support for 500 elementary students as well as summer camp scholarships for the top 100. After-school and other programs will be run by the National Council of Negro Women and by Minority Women in Science.

These programs will provide precisely the kind of attention and support that thousands of students in the D.C. public schools desperately need. Too many such students come from families that cannot afford special courses or provide encyclopedias and other formative material for their children. This is a marvelous and welcome initiative for children of the city and an encouraging example of how responsible organizations and citizens can help the schools.