Education

He came to CMS still learning English. By graduation he’d written a book on it.

Iranian student and soon-to-be CMS graduate wrote a book on English courses

English is Myers Park student, Amirsaman Zahabioun's second language. Now he has a book on how to succeed in English classes.
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English is Myers Park student, Amirsaman Zahabioun's second language. Now he has a book on how to succeed in English classes.

As a freshman at Myers Park High School, Amirsaman Zahabioun, a year removed from his native Iran, was enrolled in classes for students learning English as their second language.

Four years later, Zahabioun is known on campus as Sam, an honors student graduating on June 11. He’ll leave his fellow students a unique parting gift: A book-length study guide he wrote, in his spare time, on acing high school English.

“The Complete Guide to High School English Literature,” which Zahabioun self-published through Amazon, isn’t aimed at fellow immigrants. It’s a 103-page guide to the skills any student needs to succeed in English courses, using detailed instructions and examples drawn from Shakespeare.

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In his four years at Myers Park High School, Amirsaman Zahabioun advanced from an English learner’s class to author of a guide on excelling at English literature courses. Bruce Henderson bhenderson@charlotteobserver.com

Myers Park principal Mark Bosco is used to seniors flowering in gratifying ways. In past years, they’ve raised money to send pacemakers to Peru and to install an aquaponics system in the school greenhouse.

Zahabioun, he said, set a new standard for creativity. Bosco said his book bridges the gaps between the English curriculum and the skills needed to master its content, from essay-writing to literary criticism. The school is evaluating the guide for its potential classroom use as a reference.

“What Sam has put together is something that a lot of teachers are doing on their own, or trying to,” Bosco said. “He started out as an ESL (English as a Second Language) student and now he’s created a text that could help his classmates.”

Zahabioun, a slight young man of 18 who speaks precisely, is proudly matter-of-fact about his achievement.

“I took a lot of notes in my English courses and I was very much interested in the language itself and its literature,” he said this week. “So I had a lot of notes by the time I was a junior. I decided to write something using all of my notes, to get all of them together and polish them and make a product out of it that would be useful to all students in the future.”

He first considered compiling a supplement to share with English teachers. Then he realized that his copious notes, supplemented by sample essays and quotations from “Romeo and Juliet” and “Macbeth,” demanded a full book. He doesn’t view it as a money-maker — it’s on sale for $20 only because Amazon demanded it, and a free Kindle version is available.

Zahabioun’s family moved from Iran to Illinois five years ago, then on to Charlotte a year later. The move to the U.S. was mostly for educational opportunities for Zahabioun and his 8-year-old sister, but he said family expectations aren’t what drive his hours of study.

“It’s mostly myself pushing myself forward,” he said. “They are, I don’t want to say easy-going, but they’re also not that strict either. They support me, but during my failures they’re always with me.”

Zahabioun didn’t linger in ESL classes, which he didn’t find challenging. His family’s native language is Persian, or Farsi, but he began learning English in Iran in first grade. Now he’s intent on also becoming fluent in Spanish, and from online instruction, American Sign Language.

At Myers Park High, he quickly moved to honors English courses as a freshman, then entered the rigorous International Baccalaureate program as a sophomore.

“IB is the toughest course here,” he said. “If there were something even harder than IB, I would have taken it.”

Zahabioun is the founder or an officer of the English, Spanish, math and science honors societies at Myers Park High. He will graduate with a 4.4 grade point average and enter UNC Chapel Hill this fall as a pre-med student.

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“The Complete Guide to High School English Literature” was self-published by Amirsaman Zahabioun on Amazon, where it sells for $20. Zahabioun put a price on the book only because Amazon required it.

English teacher Lisa Patrizio taught Zahabioun in a freshman honors class and became his mentor at Myers Park. She gets teary, even now, reading the dedication of his book to her, “whose name brings solely one word to mind: Phenomenal.”

Patrizio, in turn, calls him an inspiration for his unrelenting effort and passion for learning.

Zahabioun showed insight beyond his years in valuing “vertical alignment,” or the progression of skills needed between grade levels, she said. Most students learn her 10 rules for commas, take a quiz and forget them. Zahabioun understood that their correct use could pay dividends for a lifetime.

“He’s just fascinated by the English language, but he knows regardless of what he studies that presenting himself correctly in his written expression is going to be important in his later life,” Patrizio said. “He has an innate desire to learn and excel. I think it’s just in his personality.”

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