When teacher Deborah Hanka asked for volunteers for a project commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, few hands went up among the eighth grade history students at the Beltsville school named for the slain civil rights leader.

And the eight girls who did volunteer to help put together fabric blocks for a huge quilt, to be dedicated this morning at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, were not moved by a desire to continue King's legacy.

The students' motivation was much simpler. "It sounded like it would be fun," said 13-year-old Kathryn Stewart of Beltsville.

But after talking to siblings, reading and watching movies about King, and then working on their three fabric blocks almost three hours a day for a week and a half, the eight girls developed a different attitude about the project and a better understanding of King.

"I'm glad that they're celebrating his birthday," said Do Hee Kim. "I'm Oriental, and people sometimes call me names. But it doesn't bother me much anymore. King's dream was for the world, that people in the world not think of each other as a particular race, but just as people."

It was a desire to get other young people to think about King's legacy that led to the formation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family of Schools Network, a nationwide association of schools named for King that includes the King Middle School in Beltsville.

Carolyn Jones, chairman of the network's steering committee, got the idea to form the group while working as an assistant to the superintendent of New York City high schools. She happened to meet American Can Co. executives visiting Martin Luther King Jr. High School in New York City, discussed the idea of a coalition of schools named after King -- and the association was born.

"So many of the young people were coming up without an understanding of what Dr. King was all about," Jones said. "We don't want his holiday to deteriorate to a series of Martin Luther King birthday sales."

The quilt, called the "Weaver of Dreams" project, is one of several activities organized by the network to help its member schools celebrate the first federal holiday for King. The network has 19 elementary school members, five middle schools, six high schools and five colleges and universities.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School in Germantown and the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in the District did not participate in the Weaver of Dreams project.

The 8-by-10-foot quilt has 35 fabric blocks, 16 by 16 inches each, plus borders.

In their three blocks, the Prince George's students depicted a world of racial harmony: a yellow bus filled with black, white, red and yel- low people, an interracial circle of people with hands joined, and a blue and green globe with a black hand and a white hand clasped over it.

The students said they got their ideas from reading about King and from three wall panels depicting King's life that hang in the school library.

Hanka, herself a prize-winning quilter, helped them to refine their ideas, but the students said that the more they learned about King, the clearer his message became.

Hanka and one of the students, Deana Hayes -- whose name was selected from a hat -- are in Atlanta today for the dedication of the quilt. The school is paying for the trip.

The eight who worked on the quilt are all 13 years old and in the eighth grade at King Middle School. They are: Kathy Langley, Terri Travis and Michelle Therien, all of Laurel; Kathryn Stewart, Do Hee Kim, Yoo Lee and Jennifer Poulis, all of Beltsville, and Deana Hayes of Lanham.