At 9:25 a.m. yesterday, Robert Jarrett VanTine became the first depositor at the newest branch of Signet Bank.
"I have six bucks," he announced, producing a fistful of wrinkled bills. Within a few minutes, he had traded his allowance money for a deposit slip, a checkbook register and a lollipop.
Jarrett is in third grade. His teller, Emily Beckman, is in sixth grade. They are students at Montgomery County's North Chevy Chase Elementary School, the site of an elaborate variant on the business-education partnerships that have proliferated around the country.
A year ago, when Signet started to work with the school, bank employees helped children learn about re'sume's and work on math homework with their parents. This fall, teachers and bank employees decided to import real banking to the school premises, and to train children to do the work.
The bank, open every other Friday morning, doubles as the school's computer classroom. On the first day, 10 tellers, stationed in pairs behind terminals, were equipped with lots of supplies for paperwork and small wooden boxes for storing cash.
The idea, their teachers said, is to hone the skills of the 260 third- through sixth-graders at the math-science-computer magnet school. The idea also is to instill an important value. "Everybody needs to learn to be a saver," said Principal Delores Baden. "A whole lot of kids don't save. That is not part of their ethic."
North Chevy Chase is one of 54 schools in Montgomery and, according to federal estimates, about 140,000 nationwide that have been "adopted" by businesses. Around the country, about 20 banks have set up branches in schools, according to the National Association of Partners in Education, based in Alexandria.
In the Washington area, two Howard County schools also contain banks. The most recent opened last month at Northfield Elementary in Ellicott City.
The prototype was "Twiglet Bank," a subsidiary of a South Miami bank that opened its first branch in an elementary school there in 1987. Fifth- and sixth-grade students act as tellers, security guards and a board of directors. Recently, they created a marketing division that has conducted customer surveys, produced television commercials and prepared an annual report.
At the start, the Twiglet venture created friction with other local banks, according to Sherrie Avery, marketing director for the parent bank, the First National Bank of South Miami. "They accused us of doing this as a cheap marketing gimmick," she said.
At North Chevy Chase, the bank branch is open to the school's students and their siblings.
Before yesterday's opening, sixth-graders who applied to be tellers took a math test and were interviewed. "They asked us basic questions like . . . 'What would you say to a friend who asked how much another child had deposited?' " said one teller, Anne Dutton. The correct answer: "It is none of their business," she said.
By 11 a.m. yesterday, 97 children had become charter depositors. For some, it took a bit of coaching to master the routine. "You don't go to every teller, honey, you just go to one," one boy was advised.
Kachentha Mwalilino, 7, of Silver Spring, said that before opening her bank account, she had stashed allowance money "in a secret place -- sometimes in my money can, sometimes under my bed." As a new account holder, she said, "I can save money, and get money out of the bank, and I feel grown up. I like it."
The enterprise seemed to please the tellers too. "It'll give us job practice," said Ilona Turner, who was handing out checkbook registers at the entrance. "And it'll teach us kids how to save money to give us practice when we grow up."