SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Language connects us to our world now and into the future, but it also can be a bridge to our heritage and history; new after-school language classes for students at Anne Sullivan Elementary School in Sioux Falls are doing just that.

“I also would like to bridge the gap between the parent and the student when they go home,” said Dil Bhujel, who works as a school home liaison for the Sioux Falls School District.

Bhujel came to South Dakota from a refugee camp in Nepal. He teaches Nepali language classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Anne Sullivan.

“I teach them the basic Nepali language skill, how to speak and how do you use a word when you communicate with your parent at home,” Bhujel said.

“We’re really focusing on students whose native language is that language so that way we can help them understand the value of being bilingual because our families have said their students don’t want to speak their own language, they only want to speak English,” Anne Sullivan principal Nikkie Duin said.

Duin says families at Anne Sullivan speak 27 different languages, with half of its students bilingual.

“They are so excited about what they’re learning, and they’re sharing it with me. I walk in the hallway, and they want to tell me a new word that they learned or a phrase that they’ve learned,” Duin said. “They’re very proud.”

“Some of them also told me that, ‘Can we do it every day?'” Bhujel said.

Two East African languages are also part of the language instruction; Amharic and Kunama classes are offered after school, too.

“One of the things that they talked about was would it be possible to somehow work in language classes so that our kids can at least retain some of the basics of our home language,” Sioux Falls School District Superintendent Jane Stavem said.

“Through that engagement time with Dr. Stavem, one of the requests that came from a lot of our families who speak two languages, who are bilingual, was that their children don’t appreciate or value their native language, and we felt like we could help those students see the power in being bilingual,” Duin said.

“Language is central to so many people’s heritage, and it’s a point of pride,” Stavem said.

“I not only teach them how to speak, I also teach them about what kind of culture that we come from and what kind of ethnicity, food and all those things, and little bit of history, where their parents came from,” Bhujel said.

He wants to spark a connection with heritage.

“Most of the time the student hesitates to talk in Nepali,” Bhujel said. “So I am trying to encourage students to learn, speak their native language.”

“It’s a joyful thing for our families because they know that they’re going to get just a little bit of a boost in retaining their home language,” Stavem said.

Bhujel has expertise to share, and he’s thrilled to do it.

“It makes me feel very proud,” he said. “I am feeling that I am giving something to the community. What I know I just like to share.”

Stavem says about 80 different languages are spoken in the Sioux Falls School District.