The American Field Service (AFS), which sends American students abroad and places foreign students in U.S. homes, has launched The district Project, an effort to establish AFS chapters in a dozen high schools here.

The program will offer more D.C. youths the chance to study overseas, as well as giving District families the opportunity to have student guests from 26 countries, said Wendy Russell, the AFS area representative for the project.

Currently, some D.C. schools do send students overseas on the AFS Americans Abroad program: last month three District teen-agers left for AFS summer programs in South America. Two of the students currently are hosted in the District.

If D.C. schools had active AFS chapters to generate student interest, more D.C. students would go overseas or volunteer to host foreign students, Russell said.

"Many students in the District have never even heard of living overseas. It is a foreign idea to them. And the idea of hosting a foreign student from some country halfway around the globe is also something they've never heard of. We're trying to get the word out to inner-city youth that foreign exchange can be a very enriching part of their lives," said Russell.

Last September, Russell sent letters to about 15 District high schools, to test for student and faculty interest. Principals from Anacostia, Ballou and Dunbar high schools particularly expressed interest in the project.

Said Anacostia principal Russell Lombardy, "An exchange program is just one more we we can create a positive image among our students. I'd love to have a chapter."

Lombardy said the only deterrent is the cost.

AFS requires a school to raise a $975 fee, which AFS' New York home office uses to pay the administrative costs of bringing students here from overseas. "It would be hard to come up with the money, but we'd try to have fund-raisers to do it. The idea is so worthwhile," Lombardy said. Schools typically have dances and bake sales to raise the money.

Russell added that another problem is getting District youth to understand the merits of the program. Many teen-agers want to spend their summers raising money to go to college.

"We're not saying raising money for college isn't important. We're just saying these kids might find foreign exchange to be another very viable activity for a summer," Russell said.

District students who go on the overseas program usually receive scholarship money from AFS. Russell also is seeking donations from local business to help District youths pay for the programs, which cost $1,200 for a summer and $1,600 for a full year.

AFS's New York office came up with the idea for The District Project last spring after it disbanded D.C.'s lone AFS chapter at McKinley High School, due to personnel problems and what AFS perceived as a lack of community interest.

Several other cities -- Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago and Boston -- also are target areas for renewed AFS efforts.

Russell predicted it will be September 1981 before an AFS chapter can be formed at a District school, and several more years before there is a healthy core of AFS chapters.