Leaders of the area's major school districts and municipalities have agreed to train their employees to help prevent, recognize and respond to signs of child sexual abuse.

It's the first time all these groups have committed to the training, creating a community-wide initiative that officials hope will become a model for cities across the country.

North Charleston, Charleston and Mount Pleasant plan for after-school workers, recreation department employees and police to take part in the 2 1/2-hour training sessions, and Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester 2 teachers also will participate in the training.

The spark for this effort came from Darkness to Light, a Charleston-based nonprofit dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse through education and public awareness.

The nonprofit will kick off its fourth annual Prevent-a-thon in August. The event raises awareness of child sexual abuse prevention and encourages local businesses and organizations to train their employees.

Researchers say that only 10 percent of children who are abused will tell someone, and of those who do, about half are likely to report it to teachers. For that reason, if the nonprofit had to focus on one group to receive the training, it would be teachers, said Anne Lee, chief executive officer of Darkness to Light.

The organization formed a partnership with the state earlier this year, and by the end of September an estimated 12,000 educators will have been through the training. It will be the largest sexual abuse training ever program completed in the country, and Lee said she hopes to challenge the rest of the country to make sexual abuse training mandatory.

The state's schools are working hard to improve education, but a child's experience begins with feeling safe, said state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex.

If schools aren't safe, little learning can take place, he said. All but three of the state's 86 school districts have agreed to participate in this training partnership, and all teachers passing through PACE, the program career changers go through to become teachers, also receive the training.

Rex also has started working with the state's public and private colleges of education to include the training in their teacher education programs, and he said he's committed to all of the state's teachers being trained.

"This is a big step forward for protecting our children," he said.

Charleston County is among a handful of school districts statewide that has pledged to train all of its teachers by the end of the year.

Teachers have trained voluntarily in the past, but the training is mandatory now because of the strong likelihood that children will tell their teachers and because of the amount of time teachers spend with children, said Superintendent Nancy McGinley. Grants should cover the training costs.

Reach Diette Courrégé at 937-5546 or dcourrege@postandcourier.com.