Alma will walk across the stage during graduation exercises in May to accept her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction in literacy studies from Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi.
Former students at the black school that bears his name remember Barefield’s tenacity of pursuit and, above all, compassion. He challenged his students to confront seemingly difficult tasks by calling upon their unrecognized strengths to prevail.
“My greatest joy is sharing the same profession and dedication to educate as my late great grandfather,” Williams said.
Barefield and his wife, Lizzie, adopted Alma’s mother, Mary Dickerson and reared her. Before the professor passed away, Mary and her husband, Jessie Dickerson, had their first two children, Johnny and Archie Kay; however, Barefield looked forward to having a granddaughter.
Alma was born after the professor died.
“When I became a teacher, my mom was so excited that I chose the same profession as Professor Barefield. She said he would have been so proud to know that the baby girl he hoped for was a teacher,” Alma said.
When she called her parents to tell them she received her Ph.D., emotions surfaced and spilled over.
“At that moment, I realized how important this accomplishment was to my family,” Alma said.
Like the man she never knew, Alma’s value structure, personal priorities and future possibilities had merged with her grandfather’s.
Professor Barefield’s long-term commitment was directed to what he believed was humanity’s best asset – people.
He spent his career as an educator developing capable minds and helping his students to become better citizens. Barefield unraveled the mysteries of life and helped his students understand the world in which they lived.
“He was the principal at the school and his appearance was always sharp,” said Calvin Robinson. “I can see him now and hear how he talked – always smooth and soft. I never heard him raise his voice.”
Two generations later, his granddaughter commits her adulthood to provide educators with the skills needed to teach children.
“My actions speak for my accomplishments,” Alma said. “My goal is to work in the reading department at the university level, training undergraduate pre-service teachers to teach reading. I want to adopt an elementary campus where my undergraduate students can provide tutoring for struggling readers.”
The educator intends to give future teachers the tools to teach reading in a school setting while providing much needed tutoring for children who need extra support with their reading.
Williams’ leadership role began early in life.
A former student at Rockport-Fulton and Refugio High Schools, she excelled in her studies and was popular among her peers. She was a cheerleader, and a basketball and track athlete.
Her senior year in Refugio, she was elected RHS Homecoming Queen and received the Big Sister, Big Brother Award.
Success in track and field earned Alma a four-year track scholarship to Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, now Texas State University, where she graduated in 1988 with a bachelor of science degree in elementary education. In 2000, she earned a master’s degree.
Along the way, Alma married and started a family. Yet, earning a Ph.D. remained strongly embedded in a growing list of goals.
Williams is the wife of Pastor Andrew Williams, formerly of Woodsboro, and mother to Christopher and Adrianna Williams of Gregory-Portland.
Her siblings are Jeffrey, Ginger and Jonathon Dickerson, James and Johnny Kay, Phyllis Vegia, Beverly Morgan, Jessie Dickerson Jr. and Nelda Walker.
“We are all are so very proud of her accomplishments,” said her brother Jeffrey. “When it comes to good character, honor, integrity, perseverance, dedication and excellence, my sister is a prime example.”
The doctor holds certificates in Standard Professional Principal EC-12; Standard Secondary Reading, grades 6-12; English as a Second Language, grades 1-12; Provisional Elementary Reading, grades 1-8; and Provisional Elementary Self-Contained, grades 1-8.
In December, Alma presented her dissertation before an audience of four committee members – one skyped from Louisiana State University, a graduate student and her department head.
“I had put in late nights and countless hours of research and typing,” Alma said. “I even told my husband to stay home (during the dissertation) and say a prayer for me- in fear of disappointing him.”
Not knowing what to expect, Alma choose to stand before the committee alone, without an audience, to avoid letting her family down, should her Ph.D. not be accepted.
After her success, Alma began to regret that decision but “was relieved it was over,” she said.
Since 2010, Alma has been an adjunct at A&M - Corpus Christi where she teaches undergraduate students to assess the reading strengths and weaknesses of children. She teaches students to apply a variety of reading assessment strategies in order to develop instructional plans for young children.
Currently a teacher at Wynn Seale Middle School in Corpus Christi, Alma served as a grade level representative to develop grading standards and campus-wide rules and regulations and provide curriculum and instruction assistance to sixth grade level teachers.
She has taught at Stricklin Primary and Refugio Elementary in Refugio ISD; Goodnight Junior High and Crockett Elementary in San Marcos ISD; Cedar Brooke Elementary and Edgewood Elementary in Spring Branch ISD.
Her family says that Alma’s deeply-ingrained devotion to education results in many late nights of work. She often spends her money to ensure her students are given the best educational opportunities to learn.
“I remember our conversations about children being sent to the next grade into failure because they just could not comprehend what they were reading,” Jeffrey said. “She cares, and it shows. God created her to teach, and now there is no doubt that her desire to see growth in students and educators will be felt.”
Like her grandfather, Alma believes in the power of education and that reading comprehension lies at the core of knowledge.
Professor Andrew Barefield opened the Colored School in Refugio in the early 1900s to educate black youths for success. The school was renamed Barefield School in 1948. The high school integrated with Refugio High School in 1955.
The Barefield elementary and junior high remained open until 1969 when the school closed its doors forever.
Yet, the accomplishments of Professor Barefield and the other educators at the black school continue to be revered. Last summer, hundreds gathered for the Barefield School Reunion.
“Your goals in helping us brought about an educational reformation in America through your teaching, application of knowledge and learning at the school,” said Ronnie Green, reunion organizer.
“Alma has truly made us proud by continuing her grandfather’s legacy,” said Mary Dickerson.