HomeBensalem TimesBensalem 7-year-old is thriving in the world of fashion

Bensalem 7-year-old is thriving in the world of fashion

Reach Cyber student Eliana Balogun designed and crafted her own dress at Made Institute

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Eliana Balogun, a 7-year-old from Bensalem, has quite a few new fashionable looks for the fast-approaching summer season. From a red, white and blue dress to a heart handbag, she’s very excited about all of the fresh additions to her wardrobe. 

These items are unique because, rather than being purchased at a major retailer, they were handcrafted by a talented up-and-coming designer: Balogun. 

A current fifth-grader with Reach Cyber Charter School, Balogun not only has the opportunity to learn and excel academically at her own pace (hence her advanced grade level), but also explore a variety of interests and hobbies that may someday lead to a chosen career. 

Thanks to a partnership between Reach Cyber and Made Institute, a Philadelphia-based fashion design school, Reach Cyber students are able to learn the basics and get hands-on experience in sewing, pattern making and more. The extracurricular program, offered three times a year in the fall, winter and spring, is available virtually or, for kids like Balogun who aren’t far from the city, in-person. 

Upon enrolling in the program, Balogun didn’t hesitate to give it her all, despite being the youngest student by several years and never having picked up a needle and thread before. Quickly, she became a wiz on the sewing machine, crafting scrunchies, shirts, skirts and more. The main project tasked students with designing and making from scratch an article of clothing, for which she produced the red, white and blue dress. This ended up being her proudest achievement and ensemble of choice for the end-of-term fashion show, attended by family and friends. 

“It was amazing,” Balogun told The Times of this final showcase. “Everyone got to walk and show off the thing they made.” 

Balogun’s parents, Ronya and Henry, couldn’t be more proud. Throughout the program, Ronya got to witness her daughter’s growth firsthand, as she was usually present at the studio quietly crocheting as Balogun honed her own craft. 

“It was amazing to see my 7-year-old actually on par with 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds, doing the same thing that they’re doing and not missing a beat without any experience,” said Ronya. “It was really heartwarming. There’s a little bit of sadness. My baby girl is growing too fast. But it was mainly very exciting and her dream is coming true.” 

Henry added, “This is her first time doing it and she’s handling it so well. She’s been doing a lot of designing, coming up with different products. Right now, she’s handling it day by day and week by week, and whatever comes her way, she will just jump on it and do it well.” 

The partnership between Reach Cyber and Made Institute was launched three years ago when Nicolette Silverman, manager of career experiences at Reach Cyber, had several students express curiosity about the world of fashion design. As part of Reach Cyber’s career readiness initiative, learners are matched with after-school programs that fit their interests. And if one isn’t already available, a team of seven coordinators across Pennsylvania make it their mission to find one, as was the case with Made Institute. 

At the time, the fashion institute had recently launched an online learning platform for its adult learners to continue instruction during COVID. When Silverman reached out, Made Institute director and owner Rachel Ford was more than willing to expand programming. In fact, Reach Cyber is the first outside entity to partner with Made. 

Rather than simply rely on pre-recorded content, both online and in-person students are taught by live teachers delivering a demonstration. Additionally, for those participating virtually, Silverman and Ford have sewing machines delivered to their homes to ensure consistency. 

“After we did it once, I was like, ‘So, let’s talk about next year! How can we keep it going?,’ ” said Ford, who praised Reach Cyber’s emphasis on extracurriculars and early career exploration. “They’re sort of reimagining the way that virtual education and supplemental stuff can work, and that’s very interesting to us, as well. Our whole ethos is about reimagining the way arts and design education is more accessible. And that’s why Nicolette reached out to us and why we love working with her. It was just a match made in heaven, and we hope there’s more of it.”

Silverman added, “When you take away that financial obligation for the students and you’re just like, ‘OK, what is it that you actually want to do?,’ especially in the Philadelphia area, we see that students are just gravitating toward the arts.” 

Both are thrilled that Balogun thrived in the sewing program, which, if she decides to return for another cohort, will offer more advanced lessons and fresh challenges. Ford particularly appreciated the involvement of Ronya, something she thinks only enhanced Balogun’s experience: “Eliana and her mom are very in tandem in a way that’s not overbearing, but just kind of lovely. I would’ve loved to have my mom in on my ballet classes or whatever I was doing, to just kind of be there to advocate and all of that.” 

In addition to support from her parents, Balogun is being cheered on by her big brother David, whom The Times introduced readers to in 2023, when he graduated the 12th grade at Reach Cyber at the age of 9. He is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Southern New Hampshire University. Ronya described her kids as “two peas in a pod” who miss each other greatly when they’re not together. Still, she stressed that her daughter is forging her own path, and there’s no pressure for her to follow in David’s footsteps as an early graduate. 

“Intelligence-wise, they’re both up to par. But each one of them can have the opportunity to do whatever they want. I don’t like to compare them to each other,” explained Ronya. “I told them, ‘You be you, and that’s all that matters. You don’t have to be like your brother, your brother doesn’t have to be like you.’ This is a desire that David wanted. She, on the other hand, is enjoying other things and, for me, as long as she’s doing what she needs to do and she’s happy, she’s excelling and succeeding, I’m OK with that.” 

Though Balogun has other hobbies, including ice skating, golf and tennis, maybe the next Chanel or Versace will hail from Bensalem Township.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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