Portland middle school behavioral health case manager Ellen Flores at Lincoln Middle School
Ellen Flores, a Breathe Behavioral Health Program case manager, stands at the entrance of Lincoln Middle School, where she assists sixth, seventh and eighth graders. (Portland Phoenix/Evan Edmonds)
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Whenever she discusses her work these days, Ellen Flores can’t help but feel emotional. Flores, a behavior analyst at Lincoln Middle School, sees her recent recognition as confirmation that she’s on the right path.

“I have a really strong faith about what I’m called to do, and how to use that right,” Flores said. “Here I’m making a difference with students and families and I think that’s what I was meant to do.”

Flores is a case manager at Lincoln Middle School for the Portland public school district’s Breathe Behavioral Health Continuum program. Students qualify for Breathe programming when they exhibit specific behaviors or emotional needs that get in the way of their learning. 

Ellen Flores, a behavioral health case manager at Lincoln Middle School
Ellen Flores sits in her Lincoln Middle School office in November. (Courtesy)

Earlier this month, Flores received the 2022 Maine Psychological Association Educator Recognition Award. Flores was nominated by a local psychologist for her ability to assess student behaviors and craft support plans that can manage them and help provide what the student needs to learn. 

Each day at Lincoln is different, she explained. Her role involves working alongside students and teachers to understand curricula and how to meet their needs better. Her caseload includes sixth, seventh and eighth graders who are fully immersed in standard classes.

Flores, 52, is a Pacific Islander who grew up in Maine. She left the state at 19 for Guam, where she earned a B.A. and a Master’s in Special Education. She returned seven years ago, getting certification in Applied Behavior Analysis from the University of Southern Maine, and has worked at Lincoln Middle School since.

More recognition of her efforts came at a Nov. 15 school board meeting. Flores tried not to get choked up but couldn’t help it when she saw her son throw the thumbs up behind her.

“Those are signals my students use with me, so for my son to use that signal got me in the heart,” Flores said. 

When she was a special education teacher in Guam, a student inspired Flores to take her next step into behavioral analysis — so she returned to Maine to do so. The plan was always to return to Guam, but she’s remained here ever since.

“When a student and a family circle back to tell me how good they’re doing, that is more than any award can give me,” Flores said, “when someone trusts me with their kid, and I’m called to do this work, I take it very seriously. I don’t take it for granted.”

Making Portland Work is an occasional series about people who do their jobs, day in and day out, in good times and bad. They’re the unsung heroes we see and depend on every day. Do you know someone we should include? Let us know at [email protected].

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